Gary Clark, Jr. is a blues guitarist based in Austin, Texas. He’s played with many legends of rock, blues and soul, including the Dave Matthews Band, Buddy Guy and Alicia Keys. While he’s released a couple of albums on his own independent Hotwire Unlimited label, the recently released Black & Blu (2012) from Warner Brothers, is his major label debut. It’s an enjoyable, stylistically diverse album that showcases Clark’s excellent vocals and gritty guitar work. This is a record that’s steeped in soul, blues & rock, and there’s even a bit of hip-hop thrown into the mix.
Tracks like “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” and “When My Train Pulls In” have a more traditional blues sound, but then there are songs such as the R&B flavored “Please Come Home” and the 80s rock feel of “You Saved Me.” There’s also a cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Third Stone From The Sun” that segues into “If You Love Me Like You Say,” a song from bluesman Little Johnnie Taylor; the pairing works exceptionally well; it’s one of the best tracks on the album. In fact, there isn’t a bad track on the disc, though the diversity of the music may surprise & even frustrate some listeners looking for a more blues based record. The 28-year-old Clark shows he can be a master of many styles, and he’s comfortable working in a variety of musical genres.
The genre hopping continues with the distortion-laden, almost metal-like “Numb” and “Ain’t Messin 'Round,” which recalls 60s soul. The title track pays homage to the socially conscious 70s work of artists like Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder; and “Glitter Ain’t Gold” is a collision of rock & soul, sort of a Lenny Kravitz meets Prince jam. The playing by Clark and his band is revelatory, and it’s got a live feel; it doesn't sound manufactured. The production by Rob Cavallo (who’s worked with Green Day) and Mike Elizondo (who's produced discs for Dr Dre & Fiona Apple) gives the songs room to breathe; this isn’t an over-produced record.
The album is available in stores, and online at various digital download sites. Some digital versions (including the iTunes Deluxe edition) include a couple of worthwhile bonus tracks: “Breakdown” and “Soul.” If you’re a fan of any of the styles or genres discussed in this review, or if you've read about & heard Gary Clark, Jr’s work before, Black & Blu is worth your time. This is mature, well written & performed music by an artist who respects the styles of the past, but moves forward with his own musical footprint. Clark is a talent to watch, and I look forward to his next release.