by Dylan Bole
Austin-based blues guitarist Gary Clark Jr.’s second full-length album “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim,” released on Sept. 11, contains the powerful riffs associated with his music while also mixing soul into the album.
Clark Jr. first burst onto the blues scene at the age of 15 playing gigs at the famous Antone’s blues club in Austin, Texas, where blues icons such as Muddy Waters, Albert King and Stevie Ray Vaughan once owned the stage.
Clark Jr.’s true arrival onto the current blues landscape was when he performed his song “Bright Lights” at the Crossroads Guitar Festival in 2010. His performance caused Eric Clapton, a blues icon himself, to write a letter telling Clark: “Thank you-you make me want to play again.” This performance also earned him a recording deal with Warner Bros allowing him to produce an EP “Bright Lights” and then his first album, “Blak and Blu,” released in fall of 2012. Major artists such as the Rolling Stones and Foo Fighters recruited Clark Jr. to open for them because of his energetic live performances.
Clark Jr. is on the edge of becoming this generation’s mainstream blues artist, and this album’s theme as a “Story” lets him show the listener the sounds and artists that have influenced him.
Clark Jr.'s Guitar Skills
The first song of the album, “The Healing” with its freestyle riff throughout the song and slower beat recalls the style of blues legend B.B. King. This song’s slower tempo brings to life the healing potential of music, a theme King would be proud of.
The song “Grinder” lets loose the guitar skills Clark Jr. possesses with the shrieking guitar repeated in the chorus and the faster pace of the song allowing his guitar solos to stand out. This song’s components of a fast pace and heavy guitar solos are the traits that have made Clark Jr. a nationally recognized blues musician.
Experimentation with Soul Music
Yet, as listeners move down the album, they will find themselves interacting with music that sounds much similar to soul music with his high-pitched voice, love based songs and slower rhythm. The song that demonstrates this shift is “Our Love,” which contains an organ and Clark Jr. singing in a high-pitched voice, “You’re the one I’m dreaming of.” The song “Star” has a faster beat than “Our Love,” but contains all the other elements found in soul music. This transition to a distinctly different sound within the album is courageous and could also be a sign that soul-themed music is becoming more popular in the mainstream.
Return to the Blues and Early Rock and Roll
However, after these two songs Clark Jr. returns to the blues with the acoustic guitar and harmonica found in the song “Church.” The accompaniment of backup singers give this song the feeling of being inside a gospel church and the lyric “Oh my Lord, I need your helping hand,” reiterates that this song’s message is about being in a church and asking God for support. The jolt back to the blues with the harmonica demonstrates that the blues music of the early 1900s had an influence on Clark Jr. Coincidentally, the next song “Hold On” returns back to his signature style of blues music with powerful guitar playing throughout supported by the repeated lyric, “Hold on, were gonna make it.” These two songs prove that blues music is his expertise.
The song “Shake” also demonstrates that this album allows Clark Jr. to show how past music has influenced him. The fast beat of the drums leading the song accompanied by his one-line lyrics causes him to sound similar to Chuck Berry. One can almost see Berry doing his signature duck walk to the beat. Thus, 1950s rock and roll has also impacted his career as a musician.
Clark Jr.'s Wide Range of Skills
Clark Jr.’s album provides a combination of blues, soul music and early rock and roll, letting his audience encounter a musician with a wide range of skills. His experimentation with soul music is a new sound that is profoundly different from his prior albums but also gives the album the capability of touching on how music has changed from decade to decade.
The blues-based songs in the album stand out, which reveals that Clark Jr. has a great skill with the guitar that needs to be displayed. The theme of the album makes him experiment with these new sounds; however; his next album should be concentrated entirely on blues to deliver his full potential to the audience. I would recommend buying this album to experience Clark Jr.’s continual transformation as a mainstream artist.