I can’t remember how I heard about Gary Clark Jr., but I can remember exactly what I thought when I heard the song “Bright Lights” off his EP (The Bright Lights EP): wow. In a time where music is heavily auto-tuned and run by pop stars (some good, some bad), it was/is incredibly refreshing to hear an artist like Gary Clark Jr., and now with his major label debit Blak and Blu, he’s been given a chance to reach a larger audience with his authentic sound.
Blak and Blu includes the song that turned me on to this artist. “Bright Lights” has a simple start with a guitar plucking a few simple chords but then kicks into high gear that’s full of blues, rock and even some soul. Clark’s voice is smooth over the screeching guitars and he promises listeners “you gonna know my name by the end of the night” and you’d be crazy to forget it with a song like this.
Not to be tied down by any one genre, “Next Door Neighbor Blues” adds some country twang with a slide guitar to this bluesy number. The simplicity of the stomping bass drum over the complexity of the slide guitar has a classic blues sound to it. I think it’s pretty bold to channel such a classic sound.
Another song that was featured on The Bright Lights -EP was a live version of “When My Train Pulls In” and it’s amazing to hear the similarities and the differences in the tracks. Clark sounds just as crisp live as he does in a produced studio version of the song. This song had more of a classic rock element to partner with the blues, and the 7:46 minute song comes complete with a three-minute guitar solo that is just mind blowing.
Clark channels the beautiful sounds of ’60s Motown with “Please Come Home.” Clark reminds me of The Temptations with this song that mixes elements of R&B and soul with his ever-present blues guitar. Every album needs a slow jam and he hits a home run with this one.
“Please Come Home” isn’t the only song that has that ’60s R&B/ Soul vibe to it. “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round” is reminiscent of the late James Brown with the big, vibrant horn section in the background. I like that he can go for an “old school” sound without having to use track sampling.
Though artists like John Mayer and The Black Keys have elements of a classic blues sound to their music, it is Gary Clark Jr. who brings the iconic genre to the forefront. Make no mistake, this is an artist on a mission to break through genres and bring back the classic sounds of music.
While this may sound like a nostalgia album, Clark has serious talent and at 28, has become a maestro of the blues guitar. Although I have serious doubts of his music breaking through to mainstream radio, a solid and enjoyable album doesn’t always have to be a commercial success to be great, but I have my fingers crossed that “Blak and Blu” will make a splash in the music world.
Written by: Katie Sperduti