Blak And Blu

Gary Clark Jr.

Warner Brothers, 2012

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Some young black singers grow up wanting to be Smokey Robinson or Marvin Gaye or Gil-Scott Heron; some young black guitar players grow up wanting to be Chuck Berry or Albert King or Jimi Hendrix. Gary Clark Jr. apparently grew up wanting to be all of them—the difference being, this particular dreamer seems to have the talent needed to make all of those dreams come true.

After three well-received indie releases, Clark’s major-label debut Blak And Blu opens in blistering style with “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” a manifesto of sorts: “I don’t believe in competition / Ain’t nobody else like me around.” The fact that this bravado comes wrapped up in a song that sounds like James Brown and Al Green strapped to a cruise missile, with Lenny Kravitz on lead guitar and a fat horn section providing the rocket fuel, makes it all the sweeter. “When My Train Pulls In” follows with a stinging blues jam that’s stretched out by a series of increasingly expansive, psychedelic solos that would make either Jimi (Hendrix or Page) smile.

The title track finds Clark paying homage to both the great Gil Scott-Heron and Albert King, wrapping a smooth, soulful, very Marvin Gaye mid-tempo number (“Somewhere we got twisted / How do we get lifted?”) around samples from Heron’s “Pieces Of A Man” and King’s “As The Years Go Passing By.” This kind of thing takes big cojones to try and bigger ones to pull off, both of which Clark clearly possesses, whatever his remarkable falsetto might imply to the contrary.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

If you hadn’t figured it out by now, Clark’s range is astonishing and his knowledge of his musical forebears encyclopedic. After the steady, grinding blues “Bright Lights” gives way to the Berry-inspired roadhouse rock of “Travis County,” “The Life” delivers hip-hop-inflected r&b on the way to the loud, dense psychedelic funk of “Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ For Nothin’).” No, seriously—and every track hits the mark, accenting the most appealing aspects of each style and executing them flawlessly in support of Clark’s often-eloquent lyrics.

The even bigger and more distorted psychedelic blues “Numb” gives way to the Smokey Robinson-inspired ballad “Please Come Home,” which showcases both Clark’s superb falsetto and a solo at the end that feels like it could be Hendrix before he went solo, back when he was an r&b sideman. “Things Are Changin’” extends that Motown feel momentarily, before the homage goes from stage-whispered to shouted out loud. Covering either Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” or Johnny Taylor’s “If You Love Me Like You Say” is a gutsy move, but tying the two together into an interpolating medley? There are really only two ways to come out the other end of that decision; you’re either going to look like a fool or a genius. By now you should be able to guess which Clark is. The guy is so good that it isn’t even surprising when the closing jam feels like it might literally set the sky on fire.

“You Saved Me” demonstrates Clark’s gift for musical alchemy yet again, a slow jam with big, fuzzed-out guitars behind his smooth r&b croon that erupts into a psychedelic solo at the end. The album closes on a quieter note with the back-porch acoustic slide blues number “Next Door Neighbor Blues.”

Gary Clark Jr. is a rare talent in so many ways; a frontman who’s exceptional on both guitar and vocals; a composer/arranger who draws from the past to create music that’s nonetheless bold and innovative; a superb soul singer who can handle blues and rock and funk and rap with equal aplomb. A genuine musical Renaissance man, Clark gives you every reason on Blak And Blu to believe he’s going to be a talent to watch for many years to come.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



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