NPR : Fresh Air

Filed Under:

Gary Clark Jr.: A Raucous Blues Shout

Play associated audio

On his major-label debut Blak and Blu, you can hear the roar in Gary Clark Jr.'s blues guitar, and in his vocal throughout "Bright Lights." It's one of the few straight-up blues songs on what is essentially an introduction to one of the most highly praised young blues guitarists in recent times. While Clark comes out of a blues tradition, he's also a twentysomething who's taken in all of contemporary music.

"I don't believe in competition, ain't nobody else like me around," he sings in "Ain't Messin' Around." It's a boasting song, a chunk of neo-soul with a vehement horn section. Stylistically, Clark is all over the map. In "The Life," Clark speaks conversational verses, not rapping but not full-out singing, either, inviting some hip-hop rhythm and percussion into his music. And sometimes Clark breaks out with some Chuck Berry-ish rock 'n' roll, as in "Travis County."

The showpiece of Blak and Blu, Clark's calling card for dexterity as well as authenticity, is probably the nine-minutes-plus medley of Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone From the Sun" combined with Little Johnny Taylor's "If You Love Me Like You Say," a combo that Clark can reportedly stretch out to 20 minutes in concert. I'd say he serves himself even better with the awe-inspiring blare of his own composition "Numb," as well as a concise blast of blues-rock called "Glitter Ain't Gold."

Blak and Blu has been produced by Mike Elizondo, who's worked with acts ranging from Dr. Dre to Fiona Apple, and a few other cuts overseen by Rob Cavallo, the man who brought you Green Day. They clearly think that in Gary Clark Jr., they've got the hottest young blues performer since Robert Cray. I'd say Clark is still a work in progress. His voice is a bit thin for the heavy blues and rock that he likes to tackle, which is why his vocals seem more heavily produced than his guitar playing. But his eclecticism isn't just showing off — he has a real feel for each genre he mixes and matches. Blak and Blu may be uneven, but it's also something rare: a blues album by a young artist that's less a sober attempt at worthiness than the raucous shout of a happy talent.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit

WAMU 88.5

Kate Mulgrew: "Born With Teeth" (Rebroadcast)

Kate Mulgrew, who stars as "Red" in the Netflix TV series "Orange Is The New Black", opens up in a new memoir about her complicated family and the baby she gave away for adoption as a young woman.


Swapping The Street For The Orchard, City Dwellers Take Their Pick Of Fruit

Urban foragers don't just pick their meals from the trash; many eat only the finest, freshest produce — picked from city trees. The League of Urban Canners harvests fruit from trees to make jam.

Reconsidering The Pilgrims, Piety And America's Founding Principles

Conservatives who want to emphasize America's Christian roots embrace the story of the Pilgrims and the Mayflower Compact. But some historians say their role in the country's founding is overstated.

From Takeout To Breakups: Apps Can Deliver Anything, For A Price

Convenience is at an all-time premium — and a lot of smartphone apps promise to make many of the things we do every day easier. In a time-crunch or sheer laziness, how far will the apps take us?

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.