JC Brooks & the Uptown Sound have a reputation for wild and sassy performances and great songwriting potential. Their frontman oozes style and panache. Their latest record, Howl, has been unleashed with a promise to ignite, electrify and rock us all to the core. Alas. While Howl is not a whimper, it doesn’t quite deliver on a full soul shakedown.
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this record. But there’s nothing particularly right about it either. It’s a reasonable sampling of indie soul made by good players with a good track record– for making good music. However, for a band with all the right ingredients for a five-star dish, this effort is a bit bland.
The production quality is spectacularly “mehh,” particularly the drums, which live in a lifeless vacuum throughout. On the positive, JC’s voice is lovely as ever-– like a groovier, soul-ified version of Spacehog’s Royston Langdon. But on songs as sparse and gutsy as “Cold,” where JC and a piano stand alone, his Broadway belt comes all the way out to play… and the results are quite peculiar. The intimacy of the recording matched with the BIG side of Brooks’ voice creates a kind of claustrophobia, trapping a sound that deserves to reverberate high and wide.
Perhaps this is the trouble overall; this Broadway-in-a-box feel. “Control” hits that spot in a different way, reminiscent of the RENT soundtrack in vibe and melody alike. Indeed, for all of their retro get-down moments and classic-ish song structure, the aftertaste is more ’90s than any other decade. Standouts like “Rouse Yourself” and the title/opening track “Howl” make this album worth rifling through-– so long as you’re not expecting anything earth-shattering.