Gary Clark, Jr.
Blak And Blu
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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 Record Store Day, vinyl-only, live release Gary Clark, Jr. Presents HWUL Raw Cuts Vol. 1. He’s even been featured in an under-the-radar major motion picture back in 2007, Honeydripper, as a musical savior for a 1950s blues club in the deep South.
It’s in that mode where Clark sizzles. The lead single, “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round,” is rock/blues solid gold with its peppy horns reminiscent of a Stax smash. With two minutes remaining in the song, Clark struts his stuff proudly on a solo that stands at the forefront of a busy section of music. The hook’s catchy delivery (“Give it up now/play it cool”) over that orgasm of sound should be marketing gold for commercial feature.
“When My Train Pulls In” takes us further in the blues vein. As great as the presence of the horns in “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” is, it’s also necessary for their removal in this track. Clark is able to wield his fuzzy guitar like a stick of dynamite, not only as the song’s musical bedrock, but on a searing solo where he blows the roof off.
Unfortunately after such a great introduction into the album, it turns in a different direction that isn’t completely satisfying. The title track sounds like a bland R&B number with Clark’s vocals sounding like a Musiq Soulchild ripoff. That trend continues on “The Life” and “Things Are Changin’.” It’s not that he should be penalized for traveling down a different musical path, but there is such a wide gap between the performances of “Bright Lights” and “The Life” that you wonder why the executive producer didn’t make different choices. If he had a voice that suited the R&B material better, the outcome might be different.
He does get back on track. “Glitter And Gold” sounds like it could have been a hit for Lenny Kravitz, which proves that he has crossover potential on rock radio formats. The difference between it and some of the tracks previously mentioned is that there is a heavier lean on his guitar chops. His skill on his instrument is so sharp, you wonder why he went away from it at all. Some tracks could have been replaced with live favorites such as “Don’t Owe You A Thang,” which did see a release on 2011’s The Bright Lights EP.
Blak And Blu shows the promise of a talented musician and songwriter. When he’s in bluesman mode, he’s as exciting a performer as the genre has seen in a number of years. However, when he ventures into other territory, it’s often bewildering and frustrating to know that there could have been different song choices that would have made for a more cohesive listen. As is, our appetite has only been whetted and not satiated.