At age 28, Austin’s Gary Clark Jr is releasing his major-label debut. But the highly-touted blues guitarist is anything but a late starter. In addition to a handful of independent releases, Clark has already jammed with legends like Hubert Sumlin and Buddy Guy, shared the stage with Eric Clapton and Neil Young, performed at the White House for Barack Obama, been given the keys to the city by Austin’s mayor, acted in a Hollywood film opposite Danny Glover and been pronounced “the new Hendrix” and “the savior of the blues”.
With Blak And Blu, Clark has the full endorsement of Warner Brothers behind him. Label head Rob Cavallo has co-produced several tracks and Mike Elizondo, who has worked with everyone from Dr. Dre to Gin Wigmore, co-produced and played a myriad of instruments. Nevertheless, Gary Clark Jr. seems to have made the record he wanted to make.
That means showing off his ability to make music other than the blues.
Leadoff track, Ain’t Messin’ Round is a brassy soul stomper, with a classic Motown four-on-the-floor beat. Clark sings in a falsetto reminiscent of the great Curtis Mayfield. It isn’t until about the 2:20 mark that he takes a guitar solo. It’s short, concise, and just what the song needs.
When My Train Pulls In is a bluesy rocker that really proves that Gary Clark Jr. has arrived. The vibe and Clark’s voice remind me of mid-70s Robin Trower. The track takes a while to build up, but when it does, watch out. The almost 8 minute track ends with a scorching 3 minute solo that really takes off. It sounds like Clark’s is responding to the hype surrounding him, saying, “Yeah, I got the goods…check this out”.
From there Gary Clark Jr. proceeds to take the listener on a musical history lesson. The title track is a hip-hop influenced piece with samples from Gil Scott-Heron and Albert King. The tough blues of Bright Lights recalls Jimmy Reed. Travis County is a straight-up rocker that sounds like Chuck Berry could have written it. Glitter And Gold features a heavy guitar riff, a blistering solo. Please Come Home is a soulful doo-wop ballad featuring string and horns and another beautiful guitar solo.
Clark takes on the Hendrix comparisons head-on with his own rendition of Third Stone From The Sun, combined with Little Johnny Taylor’s If You Love Me. Clark’s use of distortion and feedback is impressive and his funky take on the Taylor song works surprisingly well with the Hendrix tune. At nine and a half minutes long, it’s clearly the centre-piece of the record.
Blak And Blu closes out with Next Door Neighbor Blues, a slice of down-home acoustic country blues that feels just slightly out of place, although nicely done.
So, Clark has stepped up to the plate as a blues guitar hero while proving at the same time that he’s not just a one-trick pony. After hearing songs like When My Train Pulls In and Travis County, I’m anxious to hear him perform live. It looks like he’s gonna be around awhile.
Click here to listen to Bright Lights from Blak And Blu: