I went to see Gary Clark, Jr. and his band last week. I usually try and find something positive to say about a live act when I go and see them, but with I was just bored. It wasn’t anything special. Nothing to write home about. In fact, I enjoyed the support act – Aaron Tokona, from Cairo Knife Fight – much more.
I’m in two minds about Gary Clark, Jr. in general – and from the sounds of it, so is he. This album – Blak And Blu – his Grammy nominated major label debut, sits in about three or four camps. He flits between being a bluesman, a ‘60s soul singer, a rapper and a 21st century R&B singer. Dialled back to just 30 minutes, he could hit one any of those genres on the nose. Instead he spreads himself far too thinly across an hour and seven minutes.
Then there’s the H word – the dreaded ‘new Hendrix’ label; the curse of the gifted guitarist. In the ‘80s, it was Stevie Ray Vaughan. In the ‘90s, it was Lenny Kravitz. In the 2000s, it was probably Ben Harper. In the 2010’s, it’s almost a sure thing that it’s Gary Clark, Jr. Poor guy. Like most people (other than Stevie Ray, who’s probably as freakish as Hendrix, just in a completely different way) Clark comes nowhere near. He’s a good guitarist, don’t get me wrong. He knows his chops, it’s just that he isn’t the saviour of the electric guitar – or the blues – that people are making him out to be.
He isn’t even the best guitarist in his band. Wisely sticking to mainly rhythm guitar and lead vocals (with the odd solo thrown in for good measure), he lets his lead guitarist do most of the heavy lifting. The lead guitarist’s playing on a mid-set cover of Albert King’s Don’t Throw Your Love On Me So Strong was fantastic.
Worryingly, he seems to be taking a long time to deliver major label album number two. The record company put out a live album last year (a stopgap release if ever I’ve seen one), but it’s odd that he’s taken at least three years to deliver his sophomore effort. Momentum is a wonderful thing for an artist, but it doesn’t last forever.
In my record collection, Clark is filed between Clapton and the Clash. Hopefully he won’t waste as much time as they both did in finding out which genre they belonged to (blues revisionist, and pop-tinged new-wave musical magpies, respectively). He needs to forget all that Hollywood, urban youth hip-hop crap and concentrate on his brand of blues – an updated Chicago blues for the 21st century.
Hit: Bright Lights
Hidden Gem: Third Stone From The Sun / If You Love Me Like You Say