Austin, Texas, musician Gary Clark Jr. releases his full-length major label debut at 28 years old, already a veteran of countless road Buy Cheap Cigarettes Online miles, several independent releases and gigs both great and small. That's a nice position to be in, frankly - most modern pop and rock acts are dropping their debuts while still wet behind the ears, and are considered old and potentially out of it by the time they get to be Clark's age.
On the downside, Clark's 2010 Warner Bros. EP generated so much buzz of the hyperbolic variety - he's had the "savior of the blues" and "new Hendrix" nonsense thrust his way repeatedly over the past 18 months - that expectations for his "in the spotlight" full-album debut must have been considerable.
In several reviews published prior to the album's release this week, the inevitable backlash was already apparent. "Blak and Blu" is not the album that self-appointed protectors of "the future of the blues" were hoping for from their man. Almost unanimously, these reviews claimed that the album is "eclectic," as if somehow that was a bad thing, a betrayal of Clark's supposed "authenticity" as a bluesman.
Whatever. This nonsense has been going on ever since Bob Dylan plugged in an electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival, and sadly, it's likely to go on forever. What matters is the fact that Clark has delivered a scorcher of an album in "Blak and Blu," one positively brimming with gritty solos and even grittier riffs, all held together by Clark's eminently soulful, R vocals. Two songs into the set, and Marlboro Menthol Cigarettes we've already been treated to several killer hooks, and guitar solos that would make Neil Young Crazy Horse grin in recognition. Clark sounds like a man on fire during "When My Train Pulls In" and like a defiant pilgrim in album opener "Ain't Messin' Round." Both songs fully deliver on the scorching promise of his EP's standout track, "Bright Lights."
Things do change here, however, which may be why so many critics are being thrown off the scent. The title track incorporates elements of hip-hop and modern soul, and is a showcase for Clark's stirring, if laid-back, vocals, with nary a fuzz-toned guitar in sight. "Bright Lights" is reprised here as well, in a slightly more polished, spacious version, but it smolders and smokes, like a more soulful B-side from the Black Keys' "Brothers" album. "Travis County" is four-on-the-floor Southern-tinged rock 'n' roll, and its rapid-fire tempo is welcome at this point in the album's progression, following the more languid and sultry tempos of the opening quartet of tunes.