It shines like a signal flare in the midnight sky for me when hipsters and “tastemakers” love an artist. I do not know why. Maybe it’s my lifelong need to be difficult, to go against the flow. It’s kind of like my urge to see a movie that Siskel and Ebert panned; it’s going against the grain. Moreover, my feelings for Gary Clark Jr.‘s long awaited debut Blak and Blu are no different.
First I must state: I love the blues. From Skip James to Little Walter, on down to Hendrix, The White Stripes, and The Black Keys, I like that sense of longing, the feeling of loss, of desperation, coupled with a mastery of their instruments that seems, forgive me, supernatural. While Clark Jr. is an exceptional player that is a borderline virtuoso, his debut feels a bit flat to me. Blak and Blu is a record with only slightly more balls than John Mayer at his most ballsy; there are good moments of brilliance and wonder, and I will discuss them next, but for the most part, this debut is a typical major label debut cloaked in pseudo-Hendrix flamethrower work.
Where Clark Jr. does shine is his openness to styles beyond the blues. He delves into rap, hip-hop, southern rock, funk, and soul. Case in point: “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” has a brass section worthy of The Memphis Horns and a more than subtle nod to the late great Curtis Mayfield’s soulful falsetto.
The extraordinary “Bright Lights” lifts a line from Jimmy Reed’s classic and the tune “Things Are Changin’” is a gem that could’ve come straight out of The Spinners songbook. Clark’s most blatant nod to one of his heroes is in “If You’ll Love Me I’ll Stay.” This excellent number incorporates the main jam from Hendrix’s interstellar “Third Rock from the Sun.”
Do not let my opening statement throw you. Blak and Blu is a good record from an artist who, at only 28 years old (God willing) has many more years to show the world who he really is. There are many good cuts on the record and flashes of what is to come; I just don’t think it lives up to the hype. Nobody could live up to the hype cast upon Gary Clark Jr.
He is running on six of eight cylinders with Blak and Blu; let us hope he doesn’t run out of gas before he gets his masterpiece. Running out of fuel is expensive and for an artist with as much potential as Gary Clark Jr., that could cost you more than dollars.
Blak and Blu is out today from Warner Bros. You can stream tracks on Gary Clark Jr.’s website where you can also find links to purchase the album.
Oct 26: New Orleans, LA; Voodoo Festival
Nov 2-3: Boston, MA; The Sinclair
Nov 4-5: New York, NY; Bowery Ballroom
Nov 9: Washington, DC; 9:30 Club
Nov 10: Philadelphia, PA; Theatre of the Living Arts (TLA)
Nov 13-15: Los Angeles, CA; Troubadour
Nov 16: San Francisco, CA; The Fillmore