Gary Clark Jr. "Blak and Blu"

It’s a classic image, that of the bluesman standing at the crossroads, endeavoring to make a decision. For his debut release Gary Clark Jr. had the choice to follow the path of becoming his generation’s standard bearer Texas bluesman. Another path was one he had strolled briefly as a sideman with Alicia Keyes, that of the neo-soul pop singer. Then again another direction was forged by Jimi Hendrix. Clark is certainly adept at creating a pulsating psychedelic rock groove. So which direction to take on his debut album? Why not try them all?

Blak and Blu features a potpourri of pop, rock, soul, but mostly blues. This is, after all, a kid raised in Austin, Texas, who hung around Antone’s, the world renowned blues club where so many greats have honed their skills. Twelve of the tracks on the album are self-penned but many acknowledge their influences. “Bright Lights” steals a title from the great Jimmy Reed although it’s lyrical content skews darker than anything Reed ever wrote, and the guitar jam is more reminiscent of Buddy Guy’s Chicago drenched chords. Likewise “Travis City” a rollicking blues rocker steals it’s opening lick from Ike and Tina Turner’s “Nutbush City Limits.”

Clark is best when digging into the swampy, murky blend of blues and psychedelic rock as on “Numb,” or “Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ For Nothin’). He also shines on the rare occasions when he focuses on unadulterated blues, including “When My Train Pulls In,” and the album’s last track “Next Door Neighbor Blues.” Clark’s attempts at pop and soul are less compelling. “The Life” is a track that sounds out of place in the midst of the heavy psychedelic blues rock of other offerings. The title track takes a page from John Legend’s playbook with its earnest dissection of love.

Despite these missteps it’s clear that Gary Clark Jr. is an artist to watch. His guitar work promises that great blues rock music won’t be vanishing as the old masters move on.

Rosemary Welsch (Afternoon Mix)