In many ways, Gary Clark Jr. is like Michael Kiwanuka. Both are 20-somethigs with an affinity for the old. They both have smooth, soulful voices. And they produce music that sounds like it’s come from a crisp, new vinyl record. But Clark’s craft differs in that he has been anointed the next Jimi Hendrix. He certainly knows his way around a guitar and pulls out all the right moves to make it sing.
Black & Blu is his debut album for a major label, having previously released some independent records and EPs. It is a much-anticipated effort that certainly delivers. It’s also one of the most exciting records I’ve recently had the pleasure of listening to and it covers so much ground. From new to contemporary sounds from a smooth, soulful croon to a rocking, party vocal. Plus, the amount of genres on here makes it sound like a record catalogue of its own, with: blues, psychedelia, hip-hop, pop, soul, rock and folk among this ambitious mix.
But a quick word of warning- not every song on this album will appeal to everyone, even though there are gems to appease just about every kind of music fan. “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” opens proceedings with a big, bombastic Motown sound. Clark also resembles James Brown as he thumbs his nose at approval and unnecessary rules. The following, “When My Train Pulls In” is an intense number delivered by a lonely bluesmen and a track you could imagine Eric Clapton covering. It’s the first of many occasions that a legend like Clapton and others like Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood (all of whom Clark has played with) will show up as a point of reference or three.
The title track is a tad disappointing as it’s a downbeat hip-hop number that samples Gil Scott-Heron. “The Life” continues with this soft feeling but Clark is at his best when he simply sticks to the blues. “Travis County” is some of the upbeat variety or a road trip anthem-in-the-making. “Bright Lights” meanwhile, has bursts of distorted guitar that are like Neil Young’s own, while also nodding at Led Zeppelin and The Doors when they’re off imbibing in whiskey bars.
It should come as no surprise that Clark can also play the romantic card. “Please Come Home” is a sentimental ballad where his delightful falsetto delivers something truly powerful while “Next Door Neighbor Blues” sees the venue change yet again. Here, we have Clark sitting around in his yard playing slide-guitar in a song that sounds like a Jack White demo. Clark is one talented guy and he can deftly execute many different shades of grey and emotion. His guitars are bold and polished and worthy of inclusion in a time capsule for those wanting a quick glimpse at modern music right up to this point.
Gary Clark Jr. is a versatile musician, smooth operator, guitar God and crooner. His album lives up to expectations as it shows a charismatic chameleon that is hungry enough to continue down the long and dusty road towards blues Mecca. In doing so, there’s no doubt he will continue delivering the goods for many more years to come. Because when you stop and think about it, this guy not only listens to the sound of his master’s voice, he can add it all up and play it right back to him…
Originally published on 16 March 2013 at the following website: http://www.thedwarf.com.au/album_review/gary-clark-jr-blak–blu-2
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