SOUL, MAN! JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound

Currently
on tour in the U.S. and
fresh off a riotous reception in Austin at
Blurt’s SXSW party, the Chicago funk-soul freight
train is STILL trying to break your heart.

 

JENNIFER KELLY

 

“Shi-it,” talk-sings JC Brooks, putting his whole body into
the phrase and drawing it out into multiple, Southern soul syllables to the
delight of his audience. He is a sharp-dressed man in an oversize white suit
and Keds as he flirts with the audience, his band behind him in a locked-in,
Stax-style groove. They’re a stolid bunch, but that’s okay because Brooks is
all the show they need. Soon he’s chicken-walking, jump-pirouetting James Brown
style, and fanning one hand like a Southern Baptist grandmother caught up in
one heck of a funky transport.

 

Brooks is the leader of recent Bloodshot signing JC Brooks
and the Uptown Sound, a Chicago-based funk-soul freight train in the vein of
Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. Elements of the aforementioned Godfather Of
Soul, (in the dance moves and scream), Otis Redding (in the rough-edged
mid-range) and Curtis Mayfield and Al Green (in Brooks’ extraordinary falsetto)
all pop up in the band’s 2011 album Want
More
(reviewed here), but so far, the band’s biggest influence may be
alt.Americana mainstay Wilco. It’s that band’s song “I Am Trying to Break Your
Heart,” reimagined as a horn-blaring, bass-thumping, early-‘70s R&B
classic, that has defined the combo as a cheeky pretender in the boogaloo
revival.

 

“We were in the van were talking about a Sharon Jones cover
of Janet Jackson’s ‘What Have You Done For Me Lately?’,” Brooks explains. “It
was so perfectly in the funk-soul style and the arrangement was so on point
that it kind of made Ben [the band’s bassist] pause and think, ‘Is this an
actual older tune?'”

 

Brooks and his Uptown compatriots decided to work up a
similar kind of cover, looking for a song as far out of the retro soul mold as
possible and finally settling on the Wilco song. “Then it became this game of
trying to play up the opposites,” he said. “We made it so that if you weren’t
paying attention, you wouldn’t even recognize it. But if you were paying
attention, you’d be like, ‘Hold on, why the hell do I know this song? Oh my
gosh, it’s that Wilco song. Really?'”

 

Brooks says that the band has performed the song with Tweedy
twice, the first time at a fundraiser for Rahm Emmanuel. “I was so nervous,”
Brooks admits. “I mean, ‘I Am Trying to Break Your Heart’ is not just any Wilco song.” Sitting in the same
room with Tweedy, pondering his decision to mess with the
song that became synonymous with Wilco’s near break-up, Brooks began to wonder
if the songwriter might be seriously pissed and too polite to say so. “But it
turned out he was really enthusiastic about it. He was a total sweetheart.”

 

 

JC
Brooks and the Uptown Sound appear in Lake Forest, IL, on April 14 and will
touring through the middle of next month, then resume road duties in the early
summer. Tour dates can be found right here.

 

A
version of this story originally appeared in Blurt #11.

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