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MUSIC REVIEW:
Gary Clark Jr.'s "The Story of Sonny Boy Slim"

by Dylan Bole
Digital Editor

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. 

Bio

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.

CONCERT REVIEW: 
Twenty One Pilots BlurryFace Concert Pleases "The Clique"

by Danielle Fecteau
Shield Staff

Meadowbrook Music Festival sprang to life on a Saturday in early September when Twenty One Pilots performed its Blurryface Tour to a sold-out audience of 7,700 fans, or “clique” members as its followers are commonly known.

Tyler Joseph (lead vocalist, pianist, ukulele, keyboard, synthesizer, and bass) and Josh Dun (drums) make up the ever-growing sensation that is Twenty One Pilots. The duo’s sound can best be described as “schizophrenic pop,” an unofficial genre but one that fits the pairs unique sound.

Most of their songs allude to their Christian beliefs but they are not officially known as a Christian band. Joseph and Dun build deeper meanings into their music to connect with those who feel alone in today’s world.

The concert began with “Heavydirtysoul,” a fast-pace song off of Blurryface. The piece really set the tone for the rest of the concert. The entire audience was on its feet, jumping, with hands in the air. At one point during the song, as in many of the other pieces, Joseph stopped singing and let the audience do the work. In moments like these, the audience seemed especially connected to the performers.

The crowd became even more energized when the unique tone of “Guns For Hands,” off of the 2013 album Vessel, blasted through the air. The song centers in on the idea of depression and suicidal thoughts. When the chorus rang out with the ever-powerful lyrics, “…You all have guns, and you never put the safety on,” the entire crowd made their fingers into a gun shape and shot them up into the air. The performance laid the groundwork for an upcoming hot bed of emotions.

Joseph said he wrote the song after speaking with teens in New York City who told him that they were in a constant battle with depression. “This song is saying, ‘I know you have the ability to hurt yourself, but let’s divert that into something else,’ ” he said.

The performers continued connecting with the audience as Joseph said, “All right, just like we have all along, we’re gonna need your help on this one,” when introducing “We Don’t Believe What’s On TV” from Blurryface. He instructed the audience to shout “Yeah, yeah, yeah” on the count of three. The venue seemed to turn into a community of people who were struggling to find meaning in life, and knew they were not alone.

Toward the end of the show, after demanding that everyone climb onto each others’ shoulders during “The Run and Go,” Joseph introduced “Car Radio,” one of the band’s biggest hits. Clearly a crowd favorite, Joseph and Dun also seemed to love performing the piece. At one point, Joseph ran into the audience and climbed a support beam in the pavilion. The expression on his face was priceless; he finally was able to see just how many fans showed up at the sold-out show.  

Performances of “Goner” (Blurryface) and “Trees” (Vessel), two pieces about coming back from suicidal thoughts, closed out the show. Many members of the audience took out their lighters or cellphones and swayed with Dun and Joseph in a beautiful moment of surrender.

Joseph and Dun seemed to put everything into their performance at Meadowbrook Music Festival. Dun even did a backflip off of Joseph’s piano during “Holding Onto You,” causing the crowd to erupt in cheers. About halfway through the show, Dun placed a wooden plank on the audience by the stage and set his drum set on it. He then played an epic solo while Joseph stood on the hands of the crowd to belt out the lyrics to “Doubt.”

Throughout the show, Joseph would often take time to stop and talk to the audience. “We truly wish that we could get to hear each and every one of your stories personally. Just know you all mean a lot to us,” he said before playing “Car Radio.” The witty banter and endearing messages that Joseph and Dun sent out into the audience made it all the more intimate, even with the almost 8,000 fans packed into the venue.

            Twenty One Pilots gave its all in a show that no one will soon forget. My favorite moments of the show were when I would catch the performers in a moment of what I can best describe as worship. Dun would often finish playing a song and he would lay his drumsticks down, close his eyes, and tilt his head toward the sky with a smile on his face. Joseph frequently did the same in the middle of songs, letting the crowd carry on the lyrics. These almost surreal scenes invited the crowd into the moments of reflection.  For reasons like that, I have believe the Twenty One Pilots clique will continue to grow.

            Twenty One Pilots concert tour is headed to the West Coast, but to get a glimpse of this duo, check out this video: