Gary Clark Jr.’s 1st major label release mixes genres into cohesive album

Francie Johnson

In 2012, he played more major North American music festivals than any other artist in existence. He’s performed on stage with legends such as Eric Clapton, B.B. King, Buddy Guy and Mick Jagger. He’s written a film score, released two self-produced albums and even has his own holiday in his hometown of Austin, Texas.

With a laundry-list of accomplishments such as the ones above, you’d expect Gary Clark Jr.’s first major label release, “Blak and Blu , ” to be nothing short of incredible. And you’d be right.

“Blak and Blu,” released on Oct. 22, seamlessly ties together elements of blues, garage rock, soul, funk, R&B and even hip-hop to create an eclectic concoction of sounds and rhythms that just begs to be blasted at full volume.

Clark taught himself to play guitar at age 12, and spent much of his teenage years playing gigs around Austin. Eventually he crossed paths with Clifford Antone, club promoter of Antone’s, the Austin music club responsible for the rise of rock icons Jimmie and Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Clark spent several years performing at Antone’s, until he eventually caught the attention of Eric Clapton. Clapton invited him to perform at the 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, which eventually lead to a record deal with Warner Bros. Records.

I’d say Clark is bringing back the blues-rock genre, but the truth is, blues-rock never left. Thanks to groups such as The White Stripes, The Black Keys, The Cold War Kids and the Alabama Shakes, blues-rock is alive and well, and it has been for years. However, Clark breathes a new life into the genre. I’m an avid listener of all four of the bands I just named, but I’ve never heard anything quite like him.

The moment I first heard “Ain’t Messin ‘Round,” the album’s opening track, it was as if Jimi Hendrix’s ghost had somehow materialized inside my laptop speakers. An intense three-minute jam session at the end of the next track on the album, “When My Train Pulls In,” only reiterated the comparison.

Despite their similarities, Clark is not just some Hendrix wannabe. In fact, his dynamic range of influences stretches far beyond the realm of classic rock. In songs such as “Blak and Blu,” “Things Are Changin” and “Please Come Home,” Clark delves into the world of R&B, seducing the listener with his smooth, sultry voice.

Yet another genre makes an appearance in this diverse melting pot of an album with the hip-hop inspired song, “The Life.” Clark’s ability to weave all of these completely different musical genres together into one cohesive album is nothing short of impressive. No two songs sound the same, but they all flow together with perfect ease.

With so many different musical styles in one album, many artists would be unable to unify the collection and would instead be left with jagged fragments of ideas that don’t quite fit together. In “Blak and Blu ,” however, this is far from the case. Clark’s suave voice, energized guitar playing and effortlessly cool demeanor serve as the backbone for the album, tying together all of the loose ends and creating a sense of unity and completion.

“Blak and Blu’s” vibrant energy, rhythmic personality and representation of numerous musical genres all combine to create a listening experience unlike that of any other album. This may be Clark’s first major label release, but here’s hoping that it won’t be his last.