GARY CLARK JR. – Blak and Blu

January 01, 1970

(Warner Bros.)


Over a decade
into a career that started when he played Austin’s
clubs as a teenager, blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr. finds himself facing
impossible expectations. Feted by Eric Clapton at his Crossroads events,
performing at major music festivals and given slow-burning hype by his new
corporate partners at Warner Bros. Records that included the acclaimed teaser
EP Bright Lights, Clark
has practically been anointed the next rock star. As such, his major label
debut (he’s self-released three previous disks) has to live up to a hype
mountain of a size no one should have to climb.


Eager to be
known as a songwriter and singer as much as a hot-shit guitarist, the young
auteur takes on more styles than he really should on Blak and Blu. It’s easy enough to link the psychedelic blues of
“When My Train Pulls In,” the horn-driven R&B of “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” the country blues of “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” the
amped-up Chuck Berry stylings of “Travis County” and the droning blues of
“Bright Lights” – these tracks all sound like iterations of the same tradition.


But when Clark
segues from “Travis
County” to the guitarless
modern R&B of “The Life” and then into the Lenny Kravitz hard rock of
“Glitter Ain’t Gold,” he sounds like he’s trying way too hard to impress.
“Look!” he’s practically yelling. “I can do this! And this! I’m not just
another guitarslinger with overly long solos!” That’s a claim belied, by the
way, by the 10-minute blend of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From the Sun” with Johnnie Taylor’s “If You Love Me Like You Say.”


Clark’s talent is undeniable, but only when
he’s not flogging it half to death. The falsetto soul ballad “Please Come Home”
thoroughly charms in part because it sounds so effortless. The acid-tinged
blues metal of “Numb” comes off like a natural evolution, instead of a sudden
diversion. The psych soul of “Things Are Changin’” rides its groove with a
level of relaxed comfort of which “The Life” can’t come within hailing
distance.  Blak and Blu would better serve as a calling card had he saved
some of his more abrupt directional shifts for another EP and played to his
most developed strengths. There’s no doubt that Clark
will go far in his career, but he doesn’t have to go all that distance on one


DOWNLOAD: “When My Train Pulls In,” “Bright Lights,”
“Next Door Neighbor Blues” —MICHAEL



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