Redefining the very term ‘rhythm and blues’, hauling it back to the intrinsically woven meaning, away from the simple realms of urban pop, Gary Clark Jr. is back in true form. As promised, he has brought us a much richer follow-up, harnessing bolder flavours and a truer hip-hop undertone. This vision for the album sits very well with me indeed, but his lyrical scene-setting is also accomplished and humbling, as he traverses ‘The Story of Sonny Boy Slim’. Furthermore, hailing this man as a modern Hendrix is not too hefty a statement; every song composed has raw energy, great synthesis and a fantastic, unparalleled warmth that proper rock ‘n’ roll still seeks.
Opening the new record is ‘The Healing’, an effervescent scorcher, with thrashing riffs and a seriously punchy chorus. This would have lent itself nicely to Clark Jr.’s debut, ‘Blak and Blu’, suggesting that this man has taken his typical template and just blown it up into something much wilder, more spellbinding to behold. I rate that. Similarly, ‘Grinder’ is fuelled by relentless riffs, showcasing the guitars as simply Biblical fashion; if you don’t enjoy this, then you can’t possibly appreciate how much this decade and those just past have been crying out for some plectrum geniuses.
Both ‘Star’ and ‘Church’ are more salt-of-the-earth, bringing out some stellar emotion, exchanging lead guitar for rhythm. This in itself adds more dimensions to Clark Jr.’s glittering follow-up. Sewing in some pretty tidy funk elements, ‘Hold On’ suspends soft rock in a mesh of jazzy notes, bringing out extra charisma. Further still, ‘Cold Blooded’, ‘BYOB’ and ‘Can’t Sleep’ (especially the latter) continue this streak of melodic jazz undercurrents, with each being absolutely, uncontrollably toe-tapping in style.
So, it’s clear that this guy is dynamic; his ability to whip up some really fabulous harmonies, with some angsty blues guitar riffs and even some bubbly saxophones, is really welcome in this era of what is comprised, for the majority, of cheesy top 40 garbage. Displaying even a really top country-meets-blues line is ‘Shake’, another to really litter this album with class.
If you only download one track, let it be: either ‘The Healing’ or ‘Can’t Sleep’ (if not both).