The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Lex Hall

The Story of Sonny Boy Slim Gary Clark Jr Warner

★★★ 1/2 Soon af­ter he cracked the main­stream blues/ R&B world, Austin gui­tarist-song­writer Gary Clark Jr be­came known for his use of dis­tor­tion. While this ef­fect in­fused his play­ing with an in­stant Delta grit it, soon be­came stale, muf­fling his true ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

Thank­fully on this al­bum it’s largely ab­sent and, with this sonic weight lifted, some beau­ti­fully up­beat com­po­si­tions emerge. The stand­out is Cold Blooded, a story about a play­boy get­ting caught in his own trap. Its slink­ing bassline and de­scend­ing horns echo Curtis May­field at his peak. Show­ing a ma­tu­rity be­yond his 31 years, Clark, just as May­field of­ten did, leaves his solo some­what buried in the mix be­cause he knows the slight re­verb will build the req­ui­site drama. “I can hold my own,” he sings. “I’m cold blooded.” The lyric may be­long to a jilted lover but it could ap­ply to Clark’s play­ing.

Another high­light is Church, a pared-back acous­tic gospel song kicked along by a rous­ing har­mon­ica line. Such a com­bi­na­tion re­minds you of Ben Harper but the sim­i­lar­i­ties fade when you hear Clark’s voice. It’s smoother and con­veys a wider range of emo­tion.

In­deed, when Clark first made the scene it was thought he would be­come the next great black guitar slinger. But those look­ing for wail­ing blues runs will be dis­ap­pointed. This is a laid­back al­bum that is happy to ex­plore gen­res. Clark’s love of hip-hop is clear in the open­ing track, The Heal­ing, but by the end he has turned his lamp down low.

The open­ing bars of Down to Ride are rem­i­nis­cent of Jeff Buck­ley’s 1998 slow-burner Ev­ery­body Here Wants You, and again ce­ment Clark’s rep­u­ta­tion as much more than a blues trou­ba­dour.

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