By: The Busted Amp Staff
JOSEPH: Wow. Talk about doing a complete 180 of your sound. I loved Clark's debut album. Blak and Blu is definitely one of my favorite albums of 2012. It is groovy, blues-ey, and just is flat-out sexy. It is exactly what I think of now when I think of modern, deep southern rock. An "Austin sound." so to say. But Gary Clark Jr. clearly does not want to make more of the same, or really anything that sounds even remotely close to his style on his sophomore LP. While I can't help but respect him for taking a turn for left field on this album, it unfortunately sounds too much like throwing as many ideas against the wall as possible and seeing what sticks. This album honestly sounds like a debut album, and Blak and Blu sounds like the sophomore album with its far more precise and polished style. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. But will it alienate some of his fans? Probably. Just talk to The Black Keys about that one.
Unfortunately, though, I am one of those fans. I loved the direction Blak and Blu took, and I'm definitely struggling to get into this follow-up. It definitely has its moments. "Shake," also known as my favorite song on the album, reminds me of something Black Joe Lewis would've wrote. Gary Clark Jr. brings out the old school delta blues guitar for this song and releases his inner Muddy Waters for 3 glorious minutes. But I think another reason I like "Shake" as much as I do is because it is, without a doubt, the song that sounds most similar to the style I had come to associate with Gary Clark Jr. He definitely returns to his southern roots with this song, but nowhere else on the LP is that style found. Anywhere. Most of this album, particularly the second half, can be summed up as....chilled, laid back, baby-makin' R&B music. There's even some elements of hip-hop thrown in here for good measure. Cause why not? Some people will definitely dig it. Some people will love the direction Gary Clark Jr. is going. I'm just not one of them. Yet.
Maybe in time this album will grow on me. But that time is not today. I just find it so hard to believe that Gary Clark Jr. would follow such a well-oiled debut album, featuring some of my absolute favorite songs of this decade to this point, with this. While well-produced, and kudos to Gary Clark Jr. on that as he did self-produce this album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim lacks consistency and, more importantly, memorability. It is not a worthy follow-up to Blak and Blu, plain and simple. Hopefully his fans stick with him through this album, and next time he either creates a concise album in this new style or returns to his roots in southern rock. I'm definitely glad I saw him live on his debut album cycle.
My Number: 3/10
Derek: Gary Clark Jr. has been hailed as one of the upcoming guitar gods of the decade. Ever since he appeared in the Austin, Texas blues scene, he’s drawn the attention of locals and international stars alike. Clark’s sound is a unique blend of blues, soul, and hip-hop that really modernizes the sounds of Stevie Ray
Vaughn, the Kings, and the legends of old. His meteoric rise to fame in the last few years has been stunning, going from playing SXSW in Austin to appearing on stage with The Rolling Stones in only a few years. On The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark leans more on his soul and R&B influences, trading in a few of the bigger punches from his previous release for slow burners, but in the process he delivers a more concise, consistent album idea than his debut full length Blak and Blu.
For all of the hype about his guitar playing, he doesn’t abuse its use, instead focusing much of the album on his soulful voice. On “Star”, with a powerful bass line laying the foundation, Clark flashes the upper reaches of his range, singing in a beautiful falsetto “Everywhere you go, just know that you’re a star/ I want you to shine”. This continues with “Our Love”, where Clark layers his voice with an organ and a nice guitar solo, and “Church”, a stripped back acoustic song with harmonica and a gospel choir singing “Lord, my Lord/ I need your helpin’ hand”.
With all of the slowed down soul and R&B on the first half of the album, Clark wakes up on “Hold On”, a commentary on the racial state of affairs in modern society. With a hip-hop flair, he sings “I’m not out to steal your money/I don’t wanna take your time/I do deserve a little respect/ so I’m gonna get what is mine”. While he’s never specific on what he’s talking about, his lyrics are generally about struggle that he’s seen and experienced in his life, it’s not hard to understand – even though he says “Y’all don’t understand” at the end of the song.
This isn’t to say that there aren’t any heavy rockers on this album. “Stay” is a churning groove of a song, “Shake”, as Joseph mentioned, features some great delta blues influenced slide guitar, and on
"Grinder”, Clark plays some of his better licks on the album, giving us a glimpse of the playing that’s he’s become known for. But if Clark was worried about being known as a one trick pony, he certainly proved his point on this album. He is much more than a guitar player, and he has the voice and the presence to back it up.
My Number: 7/10
Final Verdict: 5/10
By: The Busted Amp Staff
DEREK: I've always been a fan of side projects. They give a musician the chance to flex their creative muscles and release something that isn't in the same vein as their main band. In many ways, a side project can be a breath of fresh air and rejuvenate what can become a stagnant, monotonous album cycle process when working with the same band album after album.
Dan Auerbach is no stranger to side projects. He released two albums with side projects back in 2009 - his fantastic solo debut Keep It Hid and the rap collaboration project Blackroc, featuring fellow Black Keys bandmate Patrick Carney and a number of hip-hop artists. Both of those projects were released the year before Brothers, their biggest album at that point in their career. That album garnered two Grammy wins and catapulted them into the mainstream spotlight as one of the biggest rock acts in the world.
Nearly six years later, on the heels of The Black Keys' latest release, Turn Blue, Auerbach is back at it, this time as The Arcs. Featuring Richard Swift, The Black Keys' touring keyboardist, the album sounds like Turn Blue meets the Southwest USA. It's a soulful, desert-infused cruise through Auerbach's mind. Album opener "Outta My Mind" sounds like it could have been included in Turn Blue, especially with Swift's falsetto. The smoky, echoed vocals, atmospheric effects, and buzzed guitar solo take you on a trip, one that Danger Mouse tried (and ultimately failed) to produce on Turn Blue, and I can't help but think that this album is a "Take Two" of sorts on Turn Blue, without the pressure of being in the spotlight as The Black Keys or having Danger Mouse vomit on every track.
The Latino influence on Yours, Dreamily, is obvious. From the album art, to the added flair of New York City all female Mariachi band Flor de Toloache, Auerbach and gang capture the feeling with ease. Recently, the band even played their first live show in a historically Latino-populated neighborhood in LA. Coupled with Auerbach’s familiar voice and guitar work, Yours, Dreamily,makes for a fun ride. “Pistol Made of Bone” is the biggest beneficiary of the added Latino style. A Western in the truest sense, with echoed gunshots (whip?), yelps, and other effects, the song brings back memories of former Keys “pistol” favorite “Ten Cent Pistol”. Speaking of effects, the production on this album is spot on. Auerbach already has a Grammy for Producer of the Year from his work on El Camino and with Dr. John, and this album only adds to his phenomenal resume; every instrument pops exactly where it needs to be, and none of the additional effects, whether the atmospheric birds chirping and the saxophone on “Everything You Do (You Do For You)” , the aforementioned gunshots, or the mariachi band, every element has a distinct purpose and the product is a clear, concise concept that holds true for the duration of the album.
As much as I’d love for The Black Keys to return to the studio for a new album to rid the disappointing taste of Turn Blue from my mouth, if this is what Auerbach puts out in the meantime, I’m not going to complain.
My Number: 7/10
JOSEPH: Derek, I couldn't agree more. This album is Turn Blue 2.0, aka the way Dan Auberbach wanted it to be. Well, at least the first half is. "Outta My Mind" has quickly become one of my favorite songs of the year so far, and it could've easily stood out as the best song on Turn Blue. This album overall definitely benefits from the lack of Danger Mouse chewing up every song he can get his paws on, (I'll stop with the mouse puns now) and nowhere is this more relevant than on the second song of the album, "Put a Flower in Your Pocket." This song is masterfully balanced by Auberbach, and it is a real treat to listen to on a really nice pair of cans. The fact that the song features an instrumental line that has been stuck in my head for a week now is a nice plus as well.
I was honestly getting ready to call this one of the best albums of the year. The first 10 songs or so are fantastic, and they feel like a more polished and refined version of what Auberbach envisioned when he changed the game up with Turn Blue. But to say this album goes off the rails in the final few songs is something of an understatement. Maybe I'm too old at this point to really appreciate the artistic choice of having sexual noises prevalent all throughout "Come and Go." Maybe I just didn't get what Auberbach was trying to do with "Searching the Blue." But. similar to Turn Blue, once again my least favorite part of Auberbach's latest album is the end. Starting with "Chains of Love," this album takes such a hard right that it lost me in the process. I mean I guess I shouldn't expect pure perfection from anyone, but I mean c'mon Dan. What were you thinking? I sure don't know.
Were it not for these last few songs, we were heading to 10 land on my review of this album. But the keyword here is "were." I guess the plus side is that the bad songs are at the end, so I'll have no problem listening to this album over and over and just skipping the final few songs. However at the end of the day, I'm with Derek. As much as I want to see The Black Keys jump into the studio for another go at a rodent-free follow-up to Turn Blue, I will be perfectly content listening to this album in the meantime. Even though I do miss me some Patrick Carney drums. Can I get a 45-minute album featuring only Carney drum solos?
My Number: 9/10
The Busted Amp Final Score: 8/10
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.