Hype sometimes seems inescapable, it can be a cruel master unforgiving if the loftiest standards aren't met. Austin born guitarist Gary Clark jnr came out of Austin with a huge reputation but a reputation hard earned and one that followed in the footsteps of legends like Stevie Ray and Jimmy Vaughan. On his major label debut Clark meets the hype head on, sometimes occasionally over-reaching in his quest to cover every base, but nonetheless there is striking originality about the album and his playing and songwriting. Interestingly the album was produced by Mike Elizondo who has worked extensively with Dr Dre and Eminem so at a glance it's a curious choice for producer, but he is able to capture that raw texture that is so important to Clark's sound.
The opening track Ain't Messin Around is a defiant statement of independence, right off the mark Clark is his own man and will not be bowed by the master hype, he will follow his own path.
I don't believe in competition
Nobody else like me around
I don't need your imposition
It Ain't hard to figure it out
Don't think too much of my disposition
You already know what;s going down
Don't wanna be your exhibition
Don't want nobody hanging around.
Against a barnstorming southern backdrop with blasting horns, Clark plays sinuous rhythms with cutting lead runs. I've read more about Gary clark jnr than heard his music so the comparisons to Jimi Hendrix left me a little worried, it's such exalted company. Clark doesn't try to emulate with his playing, there is nothing for show, each lick is dispensed on it's merits. When My Train Pulls In has a familiar Hendrix ring to it, think along the lines of Hear My Train A Comin, it also has that pounding low down rhythm that Stevie Ray Vaughan perfected over many years. It's good to hear the Texas blues reinvigorated, Clark has the ability and the talent to carry on the tradition if he so chooses. Black and Blu has a 70's soul feel to it with a hypnotic drum beat, it demonstrates that Clark doesn't want to be pushed into a corner musically, not many artists can pull off divergent styles on the one album but Clark almost pulls it off. Bright Lights was previously released on an EP and returns to his staggering blues rock style, it's a cautionary tale of the bright lights of New York city, having just returned from that city I can relate to the lure of the Big apple.
Travis County is four to the floor rock and roll, Chuck Berry style, The Life is where the album makes a false step, it's a hip hop style tune that doesn't fit with the style of the album and it's at this point that Clark overreaches. Third Stone From The Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say, marries the dense spaced out style of Hendrix who wrote Third Stone From The Sun with the gritty R&B of Little Johnnie Taylor on If You Love Me Like You Say. Things Are Changin slip into some Memphis style soul with laid back Willie Mitchell groove but it has a distinct L.A groove to it. Even though there is a lot to soak up on this album it's great to see an artist prepared to take risks, not all of them work but this album has some remarkable songs on it.