Twenty-eight-year-old Gary Clark Jr. has spent the past decade as a fixture in the vibrant Austin, Tex., music scene, establishing himself as a brilliant blues guitarist and winning the admiration of like-minded elders including Eric Clapton and Jimmie Vaughn. Clark has worked diligently to refine his craft and has built a significant fan base on the festival circuit, but just now has released his full-length debut, “Blak and Blu.”
Clark is a musical polymath interested in and capable of rendering persuasive variations on not only blues, but also soul, funk and ’70s-style riff rock. As a muscular display of raw ability, Clark’s mastery of genres is impressive. In the context of the running order of his record, it’s occasionally a bit incoherent.
For all of the talent on display, the album feels at its most forced when the traditional-minded Clark seems eager to conform to contemporary norms. Tracks such as “The Life” — a modest dalliance with hip-hop — ring hollow, a musical mismatch well-intended but elucidating little of his true ability.
Complaints aside, “Blak and Blu” is replete with highlights. The ebullient, horn-driven opener “Ain’t Messin’ Around” is an energetic statement of purpose showcasing much of the artist’s well-rounded tool kit: a great voice, a knack for hooks and guitar chops at the ready. The bruising pub rock of “Travis County” recalls nothing so much as the classic Stones’ brawler “All Down the Line.” Meanwhile, the soul-tinged “Please Come Home” is a doo-wop flavored evocation of Sam Cooke’s romantic reveries.
Throughout “Blak and Blu,” Clark establishes himself as an artist in command of his influences and easily able to replicate their charms. The question is, which direction will he ultimately choose and how will he make the many voices he’s mastered his own?
“Ain’t Messin’ Around,“ “Travis County,” “Please Come Home”