Gary Clark Jr’s major debut joins new picks


The Associated Press

Gary Clark Jr. performs at the Bridge School Benefit Concert at the Shoreline Amphitheatre on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012, in Mountain View, Calif.

Ricky Stein

Artist name: Gary Clark Jr.
Album title: Blak and Blu
Record label: Warner Bros.
Songs to download: “Bright Lights,” “The Life”

It has been truly incredible to watch Gary Clark Jr.’s career take shape over the last 10 years. From starting out at open-stage blues jams to playing the first Austin City Limits Music Festival fresh out of high school, the 28-year-old singer/songwriter’s tenure in the music industry has been a series of ever-growing peaks.

Tuesday will mark yet another high point for the blues/soul guitarist: his major debut Blak and Blu reaches stores nationwide courtesy of Warner Bros. Records.

Leadoff track “Ain’t Messin ‘Round” serves as an introduction, with a buoyant horn section and a ‘60s Revolver groove asserting that this will not be a traditional blues album. Clark’s honey-drenched vocals glide over a wall of electric guitar buzz and tambourine clatter, producing a sound that is far more in line with the Black Keys than B.B. King.

“When My Train Pulls In” follows, one of a handful of songs previously released on one of Gary’s three independently produced CDs. Here Clark flexes the guitar muscles that have made him such a can’t-miss live performer over the years, thrusting a metallic, Neil Young-esque one-note solo through a significant portion of the song’s 7:45 run time.

The best tracks on Blak and Blu, however, are the newer songs. It would have been easy for Clark to go into the studio, rip through an album’s worth of blues and let Warner Bros. do the rest. Instead he follows his instincts into the realms of contemporary R&B (“Blak and Blue,” “You Saved Me,”), old-school rock ‘n’ roll (“Travis County”), doo-wop (“Please Come Home”) and even adds a touch of hip-hop on “The Life,” one of the strongest cuts on the record.

The rest of the album swings back and forth between hard-driving blues and smooth, marketable R&B. Its eclecticism could be a strength or weakness in terms of album sales; time will tell how the general public will react.

To be fair, Blak and Blu is not perfect. The lyrics don’t always live up to the level of musicianship on display, and occasionally some of Clark’s experiments lack a sense of purpose (random baby noises at the end of the title track for example). But the sound is consistently engaging while maintaining credibility in the spheres of music’s past, present and future.

At the very least it appears that Clark has emerged as a new force in organic popular music, something that is always a welcome sight and sound to fans of the genre.

Artist name: The Doors
Album title: The Doors, Live at the Bowl ‘68

Record label: Elektra
Songs to download: “When the Music’s Over,” “The End”

This CD/DVD release captures the legendary LA band fresh off a European tour and back in their hometown at the height of their popularity. Jim Morrison makes it all the way through the entire set without getting arrested or passing out, somewhat of a rarity for the time period.

Artist name: Titus Andronicus
Album title: Local Business

Record label: XL
Songs to download: “Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter,” “In a Big City”

The New Jersey-based indie-rock quintet’s third album is a continuation of their literate, punk-inflected sound. Standout tracks include the pictorial “Still Life with Hot Deuce on Silver Platter” and Modest Mouse-influenced lead single “In a Big City.”

Artist name: …And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead
Album title: Lost Songs

Record label: Superball Music
Songs to download: “Up to Infinity,” “Heart of Wires”

The Austin art-rock ensemble release a set of 12 lyrically dark, politically-infused songs on their 11th studio album. The album is a reaction to the perceived “apathy to real world events that has plagued the independent music scene now for over a decade,” frontman Conrad Keely said.

Printed on Tuesday, October 23, 2012 as: Clark's major debut joins new picks