Soul mongrels 

JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound try to break your heart

While there's no telling when the rootsy young beardo band bubble will finally burst, it's clear the retro-soul movement's positioning itself to steal the hearts of disaffected young music listeners looking for something fresh. That's how guitarist Billy Bungeroth felt. Tired of his noisy post-punk band and listless indie rocker audiences, he wanted to make music that got people moving. So he took out a Craigslist ad.

"I hadn't heard the Amy Winehouse album when I put that ad out, and I didn't know who Sharon Jones & the Dap-kings were," says Bungeroth from a balcony above the Vegas strip, where his band, JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound have a five-night run. "Mayer Hawthorne. Fitz and the Tantrums. They have a completely different take on it than we do. But it's all good music, and I think we benefited a lot from being in a scene, a group of people who all had the same feeling as me."

While several soul-minded rock acts have emerged in the past few years, that number's limited by the style's requirement of dynamic, powerful singers. Only a few can credibly follow in the Godfather's steps. Fortunately for Bungeroth, one of them replied to his ad. Like Bungeroth, who's a member of Chicago's Second City theatre troupe, singer JC Brooks is an actor and the stage suits him.

"He's got the type of personality that it wouldn't make sense if he wasn't on one stage or another," Bungeroth says. "Jayson is not only a great singer, but he's a really great performer and knows how to work a crowd."

The band formed in '07 and its first release, Beat of Our Own Drum, came two years later. Recorded and mixed in just over a week, it's a raw, gritty example of a band working rock and soul while trying to find its own voice. That would come shortly after the album's release when they were invited to back a traveling revue headlined by veteran soulman Syl Johnson. It was a trial by fire and it burnished their skills.

"That's when we learned how to play soul music," he says, "as opposed to just wanting to play it."

Band members were still working day jobs when they attracted attention with their complete renovation of Wilco's "I'm Trying to Break Your Heart," which they turned into a rumbling R&B scorcher. Jeff Tweedy not only approved but joined them onstage at the Solid Sound Festival. Taking that as a sign, they decided to go all in, and started touring heavily. By the time they'd begun recording their follow-up, Want More, they'd attracted the interest of Bloodshot Records, who put the album out in September.

It's a more full-bodied release. They got a full horn section, added strings, and better integrated their driving rock and loose groovy soul. The album ranges from tightly wound fire-starter "Baaad News," to the bright, hands-in-the-air R&B of "I Got High" and heart-stopping smoky ballad, "To Love Someone (That Don't Love You)," where Brooks showcases a killer falsetto. From start to finish it's a sharper and more polished effort that does a decent job of blending their varied influences.

"We're already well-involved in the next record," says Bungeroth, who promises an "onslaught of new influences," including gospel. "I'm excited because I feel we're in a good place."



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