JC Brooks

Howl

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Things get personal on Howl, the third album from JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound. While R&B has always been a root sound for the band, this time out they turn down the funk and replace it with a balance of retro soul and classic pop/rock. The theme on the recording, and most of its songs, addresses the subject of modern love and desire and its aftermath, albeit from many different angles. The title track opener is a classic early Motown rave-up with meaty contemporary guitar sounds. Brooks croons in his pristine falsetto about rejection, desire, and making a stand. While the music borrows heavily from the sainted Detroit label's, Brooks' lyrics are nowhere near that innocent. On "Married for a Week," a drum break offers a taste of funk, but it gets colored by bluesy-flavored soul and rock -- think Don Covay-meets-Dan Penn. Its lyrics about the aftermath of a relationship and the stages of grief are the most emotionally complex on the set. Brooks' singing brings this one home with some help from Billy Bungeroth's stinging guitar. Andy Rosenstein's Rhodes piano and the overall smooth arrangement on "Rouse Yourself" suggest Philly soul until the chorus, where, via the distorted bassline and chiming guitars, we hear Motown's psychedelic period injected into the mix. Funky soul makes a full-on appearance in "Before You Die" with a punchy, Prince-esque arrangement and production. "River" suggests Otis Redding and Steve Cropper, and Doc Pomus' lyric poetry with a killer backing chorus vocals by Tina M. Howell. The only missteps on this set are in the two closers: "Control" and "These Things." They both feel unfinished and are nostalgic in all the wrong ways in terms of their production. On the former they borrow from mid-period Bowie, and the latter from Joshua Tree-era U2. Since there are 15 tracks here, these two could easily have been trimmed. Brooks is no slouch as a lyricist -- even when he's rough around the edges. In the grain of his voice, you never doubt that he's singing what he perceives as the truth. The Uptown Sound's tight arrangements and deeply intuitive -- not to mention tight --playing make you appreciate them nearly as much as the sources of their inspiration. Despite the obvious -- and deliberate -- reference points, most of Howl is a solid chapter in the evolution of a fascinating band.

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