The heart of Gary Clark, Jr. isn’t tough to find. At his core, the Texas-born guitarist continues the spirit of Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Hazel: his piercing chords can tell a story without words on top of them.
Clearly, Clark appreciates the past, since much of Blak and Blu is rooted in some sort of musical yesteryear. Please Come Home, for instance, is a wistful melody evoking 1960s soul.
On Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say, Clark modernises the Jimi and Albert Collins classics with clean percussion and faint record scratches. The result properly showcases Clark’s dexterity as a vocalist and instrumentalist.
His focus is tougher to grasp, though. While Blak and Blu is ambitious, it lacks a coherent theme. There’s nothing wrong with honouring influences, but his approach wanders a bit too much.
He exerts pysch-rock (Numb), nods to modern RnB (Things are Changin’), and concludes with distilled bayou blues (Next Door Neighbor Blues). Elsewhere, Clark tinkers with brassy arrangements on Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round and country on Travis County.
Overall, this feels more like a fragmented collection of songs than a calculated set. It’s easy to pick favourite tracks, and that’s a good thing. But the album as a whole isn’t so compelling. In Clark’s quest to capture multiple sounds, his direction is unclear.
That’s not to knock his artistry: Blak and Blu brightens dramatically when Clark shreds his guitar. On When My Train Pulls In, for instance, he sings despondently about finding new beginnings; and the song’s three-minute guitar solo accentuates the despair.
Numb is edgy throughout: atop methodical drums, Clark’s strums — grittier than usual — are distorted just enough to solidify a hazy feel. He resonates when the sounds are grungy; unfortunately though, those moments are too few.
What remains is an adequate compilation of nostalgic sounds, largely void of Clark’s unique voice. Greater consistency would have worked wonders.
--Marcus J. Moore
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