Album Review: Gary Clark Jr.’s Blak and Blu

Austin, TX native Gary Clark Jr. is, by all accounts, the face, spirit, and voice of modern blues.  Since emerging onto Austin’s world-famous local music scene as a teen in the late 90s, Clark’s soul-heavy vocals and gritty, super nasty guitar licks have earned him entrée into the pantheon of mighty rock n blues musicians that includes BB King, Eric Clapton, and Sheryl Crow, as well as fellow Texas music legends Stevie Ray Vaughn and Doyle Bramhall II.  His breakout 2010 independent release Gary Clark Jr (Hotwire Unlimited), although preceded by two earlier albums and followed by The Bright Lights EP on Warner Bros. in 2011, firmly established Gary Clark Jr. as a musical force of reckoning, one to be ignored or overlooked at one’s own peril.  Bottom line, this brotha is bad.

Clark’s new full-length album, Blak and Blu (Warner Bros.), was released on October 22 to rave reviews and critical acclaim, and with good reason.  The album boasts an exciting blend of contemporary R&B-tinged tunes (“The Life,” “Things Are Changin’”), throw-back doo-wop slow jams reminiscent of blue light basement parties (“Please Come Home”), and straight-up authentic blues joints (“When My Train Pulls In,” “Travis County,” “Next Door Neighbor Blues”).  The album’s opening track, “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” kicks off with Sam & Dave-inspired horns and an assertively badass lyric: “I don’t believe in competition/ain’t nobody else like me around.”  Clark’s signature “Bright Lights” makes a slightly updated appearance from previous recordings, but the Blak and Blu version loses some of its original edge and comes across just a tad too produced.  Still, the song retains at its core what made it such a standout tune to begin with: Simple yet imaginative storytelling of a tale both tragic yet hopeful, the heart and soul of a good and proper blues record.  Of interesting note, “Travis County,” “Please Come Home,” “The Life,” and “Things Are Changing” also exist in somewhat less polished incarnations on earlier releases.

While the whole of Blak and Blu is undeniably stellar, two tracks stand apart as absolute outliers: “You Saved Me” and “Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say.”  The former finds Clark channeling Prince, Jesse Johnson, and maybe even a little Ready for the World with this gorgeously sexy paean to the one whose love is both addictive and life-altering; while his intrepid handling of the latter–a brilliant mash up of Jimi Hendrix’s and Albert Collins’ respective classics–transports the listener to any number of live music festivals with a jam that stretches just shy of the ten-minute mark.

Blak and Blu is available for download on iTunes (the iTunes deluxe version of the album includes bonus tracks “Breakdown” and “Soul”).  Visit garyclarkjr.com for Gary Clark Jr.’s latest tour updates and to watch video clips of the blues man in action.

–Rhonda Nicole

Rhonda Nicole is an independent singer/songwriter, lovin’ and livin’ in Oakland, CA, currently performing with San Francisco-based soul band Midtown Social.  Download her EP “Nuda Veritas” on CDBaby and iTunes, check her out on Facebook, and follow her on Twitter and Instagram @wildhoneyrock.

 

 

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