The blues is inarguably a vital part of America's cultural history and an essential building block for pop music but these days, it's not exactly known for fresh ideas. Gary Clark Jr. may be the man to change that. Here's a twentysomething guy with equal parts skill and swagger, an Austin juke-joint hero with ample amounts of coast-to-coast cool.
On his major-label debut, Clark establishes himself as both a torch carrier and a fire starter, stripping the blues down to its core and rebuilding those elements into one of the most bracing rock records of the year. While Blak and Blu is primarily a showcase for Clark's soulful swing of a voice and his volcanic guitar solos, he uses his deep-seated chops as a license to genre-skip: Album opener ''Ain't Messin 'Round'' is a horn-spiked neutron bomb, the title track plays with moody trip-hop loops, and the breezily rap-crooned ''The Life'' is a drive-to-the-beach hit waiting to happen. Every time Clark drops in a disparate element a scratch-tastic turntable breakdown here, some breezy R&B falsetto there he comes across not as a bandwagoneer but as an open-minded prodigy whose wide-ranging talents just naturally spill over.
Though Clark can occasionally get self-indulgent (some of the jammier songs here drift past the six-minute mark), his casual charisma is powerful enough to consistently hold together Blak and Blu's eclecticism. Like original 12-bar virtuoso Robert Johnson, Clark follows his six-string muse to the crossroads, and then keeps pressing forward. A-Best Tracks:
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