The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim

Gary Clark Jr.

Warner Brothers, 2015

http://www.garyclarkjr.com

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 09/29/2015

Blak And Blu was one of the great albums of 2012, a left-field major label debut that was nominally a guitar hero blues-rock album but also touched on soul and psychedelia, tying them together in a manner cohesive, catchy and very modern. Because of Clark’s blues background and that album, it was assumed that his follow-up would be along similar lines – why mess with a good thing, right?

Well, Clark messes with a good thing, to equally satisfying results. Not content to be just another blues-rocker, or to be pigeonholed for one sound, Clark expands on the last album’s palette to include all manner of African-American music. There are blues here, of course, but there are equal amounts of jazz, soul, rock, gospel and even a little funk. Yes, there is plenty of guitar, but it’s not the heroic-solo kind such as on “When My Train Pulls In” on the last album; rather, it is the vehicle that drives the songs, the expressive outpouring of everything Clark is trying to express as an artist, as a man, as an American.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The fact that this is a singular vision is evident in the music, but to underscore the point, Clark wrote every song and played almost all the instruments. Few artists have been able to absorb the sounds of their idols, their passions and their persona and turn it into a cohesive, unique vision in modern music; nowhere else will you hear the intoxicating amalgamation of blues guitar, chunky hip-hop beats and gospel chorale as on “The Healing.”

“The Grinder” lopes with passion through smoking guitar solos (a rarity on this disc) over an atonal, slowed-down rap beat, while Clark’s admirable falsetto comes to the fore on the soulful “Star,” which evokes Philly soul and ‘70s funk but updates them with a modern beat and positive lyrics. “Our Love” is straight blues gospel and “Church” uses the gospel element with infused folk (acoustic guitar and harmonica) and a porch singalong feel. It is very different from something like “Ain’t Messin’ Round” from the last disc, but it’s easy to imagine Clark playing both songs back to back on stage. This is straight from the heart and soul (and other body parts, as evidenced by “Stay”).

The moments when Clark slips almost into homage territory are the weakest, such as the Prince-isms of “BYOB” and the Outkast-aping “Wings” (think Andre 3000’s The Love Below), and “Our Love” slip a bit in the energy department, but these moments are fleeting and still entertaining. Besides, the hefty, up-and-down freight train that is “Can’t Sleep” arrives toward the end of the disc with attitude; the best song here, it’s delivered with offhand charm and wit. “Shake” is another strong entry, sounding like an old blues song filtered through a live Bob Dylan performance.

By the time the long closer “Down To Ride” swaggers off into the sunset of the album’s cover art, you’ll be amazed at the breadth of talent on display. Clark consistently delivers soul, passion, energy and raw talent, and those who may miss the straight blues side need not worry about the quality of his major-label sophomore effort. A Top Ten contender for album of the year.

Rating: A-

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