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
Who are we?
Derek Jung and Joseph Kathmann -- Just two ordinary guys that love talking about music. You can read more about us here.