Review Summary: Ladies and gentlemen, all hail the next king of the blues...2 of 2 thought this review was well written
The blues has been long searching for it's next great African-American voice. The genre originally created by black musicians in the South has long belonged to white guys from Britain and America. Most of the relevant blues artists today who are black are the same ones who were leading the moment 50 years ago. There has not been much of a resurgence of new/young African-American blues artists on the mainstream musical consciousness as of late. That is, until Gary Clark Jr.'s major-label debut Blak and Blu hit the scene.
Clark Jr. is a twenty-seven year old native of Austin, Texas. His version of the blues is a relentlessly modern version that melds together many traditional African-American styles with the hip-hop influenced beats of the 21st Century. On Blak and Blu, the genre-hopping begins immediately with opener "Ain't Messin' Round", where we are feted with jazz horns and a slick soul beat. He lights up the track with the first of many dynamic solos heard throughout Blak and Blu, and the overall infectiousness of "Ain't Messin' Round" makes it a good choice for the first single. Several tracks flirt with soul/r&b, such as the title track and "Please Come Home". The title track in particular shows off Clark's modern spirit, as the beat is driven with 808s.
Where Gary Clark Jr. is at his best on Blak and Blu is when he stretches his legs and starts jammin'. "When My Train Pulls In" is a almost eight-minute long epic, with almost half the track a solo-fest. Clark's guitar tone is extremely thick and fuzzy, and his soloing is damn good. He either restrains himself in or lets it all go solo-wise depending on the song. In terms of hearing extremely fuzzy riffs, one should direct themselves to "Numb". It is a slow blues jam in the tradition of Clapton and others, and the tone in particular on "Numb" flows like molasses.
Lyrically, Clark Jr. sticks to traditional blues topics, such as a bad woman on the old-timey stomp "Next Door Neighbor Blues", alienation and loneliness on "When My Train Pulls In", the allure of the city on "Bright Lights", and getting locked up in "Travis County". His voice is a smooth update of bluesmen, and shines on the more soul/r&b inflected tracks.
Blak and Blu is a musical revelation for someone like me who loves blues music. Although Blak and Blu is a different, more modern genre-mixing version of classic blues, it is a damn good album and a ridiculously fun jam. It will be interesting to see what Gary Clark Jr. does next, but whatever it is, I'll be eagerly anticipating it. The mix of different musical genres on Blak and Blu makes it a unique album in today's EDM-dominated mainstream landscape. Ladies and gentlemen, all hail the next king of the blues...