Blak And Blu

Gary Clark Jr.

Warner Brothers, 2012

http://www.garyclarkjr.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/27/2013

It’s rare that debut albums arrive fully formed, but Gary Clark Jr.’s Blak And Blu is such a beast. An astonishing collection of blues-rock mixed with neo-soul, R&B, and funk, this is solidly one of the best records of 2012.

Clark doesn’t break any rules, instead taking familiar formulas and making them fresh, even (especially) for those who think blues-rock is too well-worn to be worthwhile anymore. The sound is tough where needed and languid when necessary, never succumbing to the easy trap of showoff guitar solos common to the genre. my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

There is a strong Black Keys-styled influence on the best cuts here, including “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” “Bright Lights,” and especially the fuzzed-out “Numb,” but the dash of soul and the absolute self-assurance of the playing elevate this way above mimicry. Few rock records that I’ve heard recently have this sort of confidence without swagger, recalling the late ‘60s Rolling Stones or Who’s Next in spirit.

The solos are potent, especially in “Bright Lights” and the closing half of “When My Train Pulls In,” which is about the only time Clark gives in and runs wild on the fretboard, the heat nearly emanating out of the speakers. On the opposite end is “You Saved Me,” which uses a simple drum beat, a plucked electric note, and some background guitar washes to set the mood before the vocals come in. The song builds its own sort of momentum, the guitars slowly adding more noise until the drums drop out and Clark’s multitracked voice intermingles as one, much like the protagonists of the song are likely doing. It’s utterly fantastic if you’re in the right mood.

“The Life” features a rap influence and “Travis County” sounds like a leftover from Exile On Main Street. Most of the songs were written and sung by Clark alone, though he sure knows how to pick the occasional co-conspirator (Gil Scott-Heron and Doyle Bramhall, legends both) on the title song and "Glitter Ain't Gold." The album starts to drag a bit toward the end with “Things Are Changin’” and the dull dual cover of “Third Stone From The Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say,” but the rest of this more than makes up for a few filler cuts.

Simply put, modern blues-rock on record rarely gets better than this, and the best of Blak And Blu suggests that Joe Bonamassa may have some stiff competition soon. Easily one of the best releases of the year, at least two thirds of this record is well worth your time.

Rating: A-

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