Acclaimed guitarist unleashes a blues torrent of near biblical proportions
Ever since Gary Clark Jr.’s knockout appearance at Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads festival, the Texas born guitarist’s star has certainly been on the ascent. Perhaps not since Stevie Ray Vaughan has an American guitar player made such an impression upon the blues revival community, whose understanding of the genre is so exemplary, one wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he had somehow emerged out of a time machine and had in fact been born in the 1940’s. Which isn’t to say that Clark is like a walking musical relic; his major-label debut Blak and Blu, was a showcase for his ability to combine older forms of electric blues with more modern R&B, something which didn’t always work, despite good intentions.
Fortunately, this live double album has no such shortcomings, just Clark doing exactly what he does best – blast out a series of home-cooked performances that sizzle with all the subtly and intensity they deserve, without any studio overdubs or overly polished production.
Opener “Catfish Blues” reveals just how far back Clark’s style and knowledge truly goes, giving this Delta classic a respectful workout, that has one foot in Muddy Waters and the other in Jimi Hendrix. Likewise the boogie-stomp of “Next Door Neighbour Blues” and “Three O’Clock Blues,” with its languid late night Chicago bar feel. “Travis County” and “Numb,” are given more down to earth renderings than what appeared on Blak and Blu, while “When My Train Pulls In” is Clark’s very own spirited tour de force, eerily channelling the ghost of Hendrix, thanks to a blisteringly menacing guitar solo.
Side two opens with an inspired “Ain’t Messin Round,” which leaves the Blak and Blu version in the dust, before slowing the pace on Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money” and the soulful “Please Come Home,” proving that Clark is not just a guitarist, but also an extremely fine vocalist. Hendrix fans will no doubt be curious to hear his interpretation of Jimi’s “Third Stone from the Sun,” what is arguably the album’s centrepiece, here performed as a medley alongside Little Johnny Taylor’s “If You Love Me like You Say,” managing to transform both compositions into an extension of himself.
“Blak and Blu” and “Bright Lights,” also off his debut, contain some brilliant playing, especially the latter, where Clark takes off into the upper exosphere, unleashing a flurry of blazing notes that at times almost defy description (let it be said that fellow guitarist King Zapata, is no slouch either). Last track “When the Sun Goes Down” offers the listener some respite, with just Clark on guitar and harmonica, showing that sometimes it’s not all about turning the amps up to 11.
Live albums usually serve as a stop gap, allowing the band or artist to take stock and reflect on their next move. But if this double LP is any indication, one can assume that Gary Clark Jr.’s future should be very bright indeed, no matter which direction he chooses.