Gary Clark Jr. is a guitar hero in the same vein of Dan Auberbach. He’s a bluesman with a penchant for distorted guitar solos. His voice is somewhat similar to Auerbach’s, but he delivers his lyrics in a more staccato fashion. I have some issues with his new release Blak and Blu, but I’ll address those in a moment. First, let me get into Clark’s guitar playing. He is one of the better guitar prospects coming up today. This album is filled with some of the most profound guitar playing that I’ve heard in a long time and that alone makes me want to listen to the album.
Some of the songs on Blak and Blu really delve into the epic nature of his skills, but others simply gloss over it. Logging in at nearly eight minutes “When My Train Comes in” is the best example of his style, even better than the nearly 10 minute partial Jimi Hendrix cover “Third Stone From the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say”. It is a track that ends with a blistering solo the likes of which we haven’t seen in rock music for a few years. It’s an easy statement to say he’s a great guitarist, but he’s a showman too and that’s important when building a fan base.
One of the issues I have with the album, however, is that it doesn’t stick to a concurrent theme or style. It jumps sort of all over the place. “The Life” sounds like a track off a Roots album, but then “Glitter Ain’t Gold” sounds like Prince so much that I wondered if he made an appearance. Then a few songs later we come to “Please Come Home” and it sounds like something the Stylistics would’ve put out 40 years ago. Most of it is very good, but it sounds more like Clark hasn’t found his voice.
The guitar playing and the talent behind that playing is the saving grace of this album. It plays out almost like a demo with Clark showcasing his talent to people to show his versatility. I get it, he can meld into different genres, but at the same time, by doing so he has diluted the actual effectiveness of the album. He seems to lose himself in the shuffle. Stevie Ray Vaughan was first and foremost a bluesman as was Jimi Hendrix. Vaughan was from the Hendrix school of guitar playing and rarely strayed from that style. Clark has to decide what school he belongs to, where he feels his music is best applied, genre wise. He can continue to make good albums, but if he wants to make great albums he should concentrate that immense talent of his on a concurrent theme and stick with it at least for one album.
Best Song: When My Train Comes In – The bluesiest track and the one that I think is closest to what I think is the most authentic Gary Clark Jr.
Worst Song: The Life – This seems fairly contrived and the least bluesy song on the album.