Gary Clark Jr. Second Album Review

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gary-clark-jr-the-story-of-sonny-boy-slim-album-cover-artGary Clark Jr.
The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
(Warner Bros.)
In A Word: Blurred

I dare anyone to try to label Gary Clark Jr. with a straight face. Some might lazily label him a hodgepodge of R&B or rock. Others look to him as the next great guitar player, when he’s already there and one of the best to come out of Austin, TX (which has yielded talents like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson). After sharing the stage with many guitar greats including Buddy Guy, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton, he could have easily released a series of blues-rock records and called it a day. That’s only part of his palette he chooses to wield. His latest record leaves no doubt in my mind that he can and will do anything musically he wants.

“Grinder” has the driving bass and high-hat that leaves you possibly yearning for more straight rock. Instead he’ll veer off in his fashion to Parliament and Prince territory in tracks like “Star” or channel the spirit of Motown on “Our Love.” “Church” is a highlight of the album with jangling guitar over a gospel melody. Guest vocals from Austin singer Tameca Jones over crunchy Jeff Beck-esque guitar on the funky track “Wings” is also a nice discovery.

Listening to the record you feel ready to full-on groove, yet something falls flat. Instrumentally, the rhythm section hits in all the right places and the guitar work is excellent, as expected. The songwriting, though, leaves something to be desired. The self-produced album could have benefitted from a second opinion as on his debut studio album, Blak and Blu. Hence …Sonny Boy Slim is somewhat frustrating listening, akin to hanging around your unfocused friend who is clearly creative and talented, but is also unrelentingly impulsive. I don’t have a vote on what Clark should do on his next record. But if I did, I’d like to see what, say, Rick Rubin could do with this gifted artist to help Clark achieve his full potential.

Phillip Paquette
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