Gary Clark Jr's major label debut, 2012's 'Blak And Blu', was a fascinating but flawed introduction to an endearing new talent, but at close to 70 minutes in length, it felt bloated and wildly overindulgent. Encompassing traditional blues, hard rock, R&B and neo-soul, it also hinted at an exciting potential. While follow-up 'The Story of Sonny Boy Slim' doesn't quite fulfil those expectations, it comes pretty damn close.
'Grinder' and 'The Healing' are full of Clark's trademark lacerating guitar leads and explosive soloing, with the latter being a gospel tinged highlight. However, the record is most impressive when channelling the sound and spirit of the '70s, whether it be on the devilishly slick soul of 'Hold On', the exquisite 'Our Love' or the funky, Sly and the Family Stone-informed 'Cold Blooded'. There are a few missteps along the way, 'Church', despite a rich vocal delivery from Clark, doesn't really go anywhere. 'Star' is equally as ponderous, while 'Can't Sleep's 'in the club' lyrical setting feels especially cringeworthy.
Clark's biggest triumph is in managing to splice his previous influences together in a cohesive and pleasing manner. This feels like the work of a mature songwriter rather than the dull, token guitar virtuosos that artists like himself are unfairly pigeonholed with. Blues as a genre is in a peculiar place at the moment, almost entirely absent from the mainstream. Clark is a reminder that the blues still has a place in modern culture and, when done right, remains one of music's most visceral forms.
Words: Luke Winstanley
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