Gary Clark Jr. – Live – Warner Brothers 544681 [9/23/14] stereo vinyl (2 discs), 96:24 ****1/2 :
(Gary Clark Jr. – guitar, harmonica, vocals; King Zapata – guitar; Johnny Bradley – bass; Johnny Radleat – drums)
When you are the latest big thing on the Texas blues scene, the burden to prove yourself is substantial. First the comparisons to Stevie Ray Vaughan crop up. Additionally (as was the case with Vaughan himself), any guitarist with sonic punch will be anticipated as the “new” Jimi Hendrix. It appears that Gary Clark Jr. may ascend to this lofty perch. As a twelve-year-old he was already gaining a buzz in Austin music circles. His debut album, Blak And Blu (2012) electrified critics and represented an artist whose influences evolved from blues, soul, hip-hop, rock, psychedelia, punk and indie (and that’s just a few). His raw, passionate guitar and vocals are captivating. His unique style has garnered crossover success.
Album sales and raves aside, it is live performances that set “guitar gods” apart from guitar players. Gary Clark Jr. has become a skyrocket in this aspect. He has performed at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival, Coachella, New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, Metallica’s Orion Fest, Lollapalooza and Jay Z’s Made In America Festival. Clark more than held his own at the White House blues command performance with the likes of Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Jeff Beck and Mick Jagger (Of course he amazed the President who proclaimed “he’s the future”). He is scheduled to appear at Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit, Austin City Limits and Voodoo Fest in New Orleans. A live album was inevitable.
Warner Brothers Records has released a two-LP vinyl recording, Gary Clark Jr. – Live. Clark Jr. and his band rip through assortment of covers and original songs with furious abandon. Fronting an electric blues group will be judged against Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, but this is different. There is a second guitarist (like Neil Young and Crazy Horse) that stretches out the jamming in an amped-up way. The opening guitar assault on Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues” signifies a modern, super-electric blues approach, with jagged, brain-rattling prominence. Clark Jr. is backed by King Zapato’s rhythm licks, while the bass (Johnny Bradley) and drums (Johnny Radleat) are a steady, thudding combination like (Mitchell/Redding or Jones/Bonham). This is not good times music, but deep unabashed blues. They rock out on songs like “Travis County” where Zapato and then Clark Jr. bring exhilarating ferocity to their solos. The hard driving dynamics is also evident on “Ain’t Messin ‘Round”. Clark Jr.’s solo (which always follows Zapato on the dual soloing) is explosive.
There are many highlights in this set, none more than the riveting medley, “Third Stone From The Sun/ If You Love Me Like You Say”. Clark Jr. does justice to the Hendrix instrumental (from Are You Experienced?) unleashing a barrage of sonic distortion and psychedelic intensity. Selecting a Johnny Taylor tune to complement the Hendrix tune is a bold move. Bradley and Radleat get an opportunity to solo as the band showcases their r&b grooves. The ten-and-a-half minute track finishes with a return to “Third Stone…”. There are traditional interpretations on B.B. King’s “Three O’Clock Blues” and Albert Collins’ “If Trouble Was Money”. The quartet is adept at distilling pure blues essence.
What helps Gary Clark Jr. – Live to stand apart from other live recordings are the surprises. In the midst of the edgy play on ”When My Train Pulls In”, the group launches into a reggae-tinged interlude. “Blak And Blu” noted for its electronic flair on the studio recording, is reinvented with ragged elegance. And “Numb” benefits from slide guitar. Clark Jr. and his band pull out all the stops in this performance. Near the end, “Bright Lights” is up-tempo, hypnotic blues/rock. For more than eight minutes, a band at its creative peak soars.
The overall sound on this vinyl album is very good. The bottom-mixing is prominent and the raw sound is captured (although there is some minor surface noise) with deftness. At increased volumes (highly recommended) the sonic pyrotechnics are piercing, but still an aural treat.
TrackList:Side One: Catfish Blues; Next Door Neighbor Blues; Travis County; When My Train Pulls In Side Two: Don’t Owe You A Thang; Three O’Clock Blues; Things Are Changin’; Numb Side Three: Ain’t Messin ‘Round; If Trouble Was Money; Third Stone From The Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say Side Four: Please Come Home; Blak And Blu; Bright Lights; When The Sun Goes Down
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