Gary Clark Jr. is a 29-year-old blues guitarist from Texas who’s latest release Blak And Blu is his first on a major label and represents his long-awaited break into the commercial mainstream. This album is a big break for Clark Jr. who has spent years trying to make it big in the industry, releasing several EPs and CDs on indie labels without much success. Luckily for him, Blak And Blu entered the US Billboard 200 at number 6, with his contemporary take on blues rock now making a big impression.
Blak And Blu is quite a varied album musically and sees Clark Jr. experimenting with several different styles very much in homage to his quite diverse list of influences, influences that includes Jimi Hendrix, Albert King, Curtis Mayfield, and Prince. Vocally Clark Jr. is very soulful in his delivery and you can hear touches of Lenny Kravitz in his voice, while his guitar playing is very much influenced by Hendrix especially in his use of effects pedals and an overall dreamy psychedelic style which he plays rather loudly with carefully nuanced solos. The sound on this album is by in large a concoction of blues and psychedelic rock in combination with some very soulful vocals, although he does also branch out into R&B, Doo Wop, and even Hip-Hop on this album showing that he isn’t just a one-trick pony.
The opening track “Ain’t Messin Round” is a Stax-like number with horns driving the song along, “When My Train Pulls In” probably represents his blues-rock style best and contains wailing guitar solos throughout, “Travis County” is a quick-paced rock and roll number that sounds as if Chuck Berry could have written it, while “Glitter Ain’t Gold” is very Lenny Kravitz-like both vocally and musically. These tracks are the centerpieces on the album and are a clear representation of his blues-rock style and guitar playing. The ferocity and pace of some of these tracks allow him room to experiment in some places and thus sees him explore hip-hop and R&B on the album also. “Blak and Blu” and “The Life” are the two hip-hop influenced tracks on the record, with the former sampling Gil Scott-Heron, while “Please Come Home” is a soulful Motown influenced number that has shades of The Miracles and Temptations especially in Clark Jr.’s falsetto vocal.
Having not heard any of his previous material I was very impressed by this album, particularly his guitar playing (man this guy has some chops), but also the diversity in style on this record. I feel if it was an album of ten or twelve tracks of the same heavy blues it could become too much of a good thing. Therefore, the presence of some R&B and hip-hop numbers balances the heavier guitar tracks out nicely, and also comes as a gentle relief from the blues material. I would recommend this album to people into blues rock or rock in general, I also think fans of the early-Black Keys would appreciate this as well. People who like to dance should also take note as there are some tracks on here that are great for dancing to, which is not always the case with rock forms. A nicely done album by a very talented guy, I look forward to his next offering.