BY MICHAEL TOLAND
The first couple of records by Chicago soul troop JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound turned on a translation of indie rock through the prism of ‘60s soul. The quintet had a grasp of old-fashioned R&B hooks, and singer Brooks certainly has a voice made for silky soul, but there was always a sense that the group was just playacting, emulating a sound that their hearts were not 100% in. With Howl, the band’s third LP, that’s changed. Loosening the ’60s fetishism and letting soul music be more about feel than form, Brooks and company concentrate on writing strong songs and letting them dictate the grooves.
“Before You Die” ambiguously flirts with an upturned nose over a ‘80s-inspired pop funk arrangement, complete with cheesy synth hooks. “Married For a Week” resigns itself to infidelity with a slinky funk groove. The moodily melodic “Security” depicts a dysfunctional relationship (“You need security/I need assurances”) with a tune that manages to brood and uplift all at once. The piano-and-voice “Cold” nods to the kind of eyes-on-audience balladry Brooks practiced when he worked theater stages. The stripped-down and straightforward rocker “Not Alone” asserts that we’re all in this together. The gospel-tinged anthem “These Things” ends the record on a similarly confident note.
Though the band shifts stylistic gears often over the course of Howl, it never sacrifices cohesion in order to do so. With relaxed conceptual standards but a stronger sense of songwriting purpose, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound finally make their artistic breakthrough.
DOWNLOAD: “Security,” “Married For a Week,” “These Things”