Release Date: Oct 22, 2012
Record label: Warner Bros.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Blues-Rock
How can a serious bluesman thrive in the age of Auto-Tune? That's the question Gary Clark Jr. grapples with on his major label debut. Since his teens, Clark has been the young titan of Texas blues, coming out of Austin in the early 2000s with a smoothly long-suffering voice and one hell of a mean guitar tone, playing solos that claw and scream their stories with ornery splendor.
The expectations placed upon Gary Clark Jr. have been immense ever since he emerged from the Austin, TX scene a decade ago as a teenage blues guitar prodigy. He was quickly dubbed the next to carry the torch passed from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan, but what Clark has displayed through the course of his measured development to this point is an ease at incorporating current R&B and hip-hop elements into his massive guitar arsenal.
The blues is inarguably a vital part of America’s cultural history and an essential building block for pop music — but these days, it’s not exactly known for fresh ideas. Gary Clark Jr. may be the man to change that. Here’s a twentysomething guy with equal parts skill and swagger, an Austin juke-joint hero with ample amounts of coast-to-coast cool.
Since the release of his acclaimed EP, Gary Clark Jr. has attracted the attentive ear of fellow musicians and listeners alike, and rightfully so. With a guitar style that fuses elements of Delta blues, classic R & B and garage rock, the Austin native fulfills the heavy burden of expectation on his highly anticipated debut. The bluesy, Hendrixian “When My Train Pulls In” features a guitar that oozes crunch and wail, while Clark’s able to seamlessly transition into the soul-soaked title track without anything feeling out of place.
Playing "nasty, sloppy, chunky, wailing" guitar is Gary Clark Jr's self-described thing, and it's reaped the young Texas bluesman a coterie of celebrity fans. The renowned rock critic Barack Obama has even declared Clark to be "the future", which he could be, in as much as he's trying to persuade Generation Y that there's more to blues-rock than they've experienced via the likes of the Black Keys. A particularly modern artisan, he recognises the need to diversify, so while blues remains his core skill, he's also fluent in neo-soul, R&B and psychedelia, all of it garnished by attractively leathery vocals.
Gary Clark, Jr. has been hailed by a number of critics as "the New Hendrix," which seems to be the fate of any guitarist who combines blues and rock styles at a considerable volume (particularly if they cover "Third Stone from the Sun"). While that's a blurb that may look good in Clark's press kit, it rather misses the point; Clark isn't a visionary, game-changing artist like Hendrix, but instead he's a canny singer, songwriter, and instrumentalist who has learned from the past and present, fusing them into a style that's distinctive and exciting if not necessarily revolutionary.
Gary Clark Jr.‘s Blak & Blu might just be the single most anticipated rock release of 2012. Actually, it may also be the most talked-about major label debut since his recent pal, Alicia Keys, burst on the scene in 2001 with Songs In A Minor, save for the always-exaggerated hype that usually surrounds releases from the hip-hop world (here’s lookin’ at you, Drake). The Austin, Texas-bred Clark has been tirelessly working the festival circuit all summer.
This past June I saw Gary Clark Jr. perform on the final morning of Bonnaroo, and even on the main stage, it was a tough time slot. Between the threat of rain, muddy ground and general exhaustion that comes with three days spent being constantly surrounded by music, crowds and heat, it would have been completely understandable if Clark’s audience was less than enthusiastic.
Texas bluesman Gary Clark Jr has already been around for years and has little to prove – Barack Obama declared him to be "the future" when he played at the White House and the press has already compared him with Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. His major label debut finds him mixing styles from the urban title track and stoner's lament The Life to staight rock'n'roller Travis County and sweet ballads such as Please Come Home. His guitar and voice are at their best on the likes of opening Stax stomper Ain't Messin' 'Round and the heavy soul of When My Train Pulls In, Numb, and the funky Bright Lights – his guitar crunchy and full in a way you only get with good amps and pedals.
Gary Clark Jr. has been around longer than most people realize. While Blak And Blu releases this week, it’s only his major label debut. Over the last decade, he’s released three full length albums – 110, Worry No More, and Gary Clark Jr. – as well as two EPs, the most recent being the ….
Despite only appearing on the radar in the last couple years, Gary Clark Jr. has been plugging away at the blues since 2004. Clark?s rise to mass appeal is centered upon his representation of a purer form of the genre, and at 28, he’s a relative wunderkind if you look at the mean ages of trad-blues players. But on his major label debut, Blak and Blu, Clark buckles under the pressure, resulting in 13 tracks of just good blues-rock from a man who has so much more to offer.
For the past two years, Texas guitarist Clark has been burnishing his national image with festival appearances and an EP that hinted at greatness. “Blak and Blu” pays off; it’s not a perfect album, but it is bold and exciting. Clark uses rocking blues as a base from which to explore R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop. This merger of talent and craft begins with “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” which uses explosive guitar work, glistening vocals, and a horn-and-organ decorated arrangement to back the claim “Ain’t nobody else like me around.” Clark sounds best when digging into blues pieces, especially “When My Train Pulls In,” which he transforms from the pensive “Bright Lights EP” version into a gospel-shaded cathartic release.
A Stax-like blare of horns, curlicue guitar hook tickling the left channel, and a barrage of steam-engine riffs pulling into the station all at once set the proverbial stage for Gary Clark Jr.'s declaration of intent on Blak and Blue fuse "Ain't Messin 'Round": "I don't believe in competition/ Ain't nobody else like me around." Two out of three ain't bad. The guitarist's full-length, major label debut messes around plenty, initial passes feeling uncannily like a corporate spaghetti-testing session. Instead of song lyrics, the CD liner notes come packed with production credits for each of the 13 songs.
A good introduction, albeit a wandering one. Marcus J. Moore 2013. The heart of Gary Clark, Jr. isn’t tough to find. At his core, the Texas-born guitarist continues the spirit of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel: his piercing chords can tell a story without words on top of them..