Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Album Review: Gary Clark Jr.- The Story of Sonny Boy Slim

Gary Clark Jr. 
The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
** out of *****
Gary Clark Jr. broke onto the scene as a fiery electric blues slinger from Austin, TX. With his live shows and excellent early EP he solidified himself as a true draw and an engaging craftsman of sound. When his first proper studio release Blak & Blu hit it was easy to see that he fell into the trap of branching out in so many directions that there was zero focus but his talent still shone through. Now on The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark is still searching for that sweet spot that can wrangle all of his musical loves into a cohesive package but the worst possible event happens, as the guitar playing that made him great is regulated into the background in favor of faceless modern R&B and generically light hip-hop.

The "The Healing" opens the disk with a spiritual but then immediately delves into a standard hip-hop beat, where Clark lays out how music is his healing. Lyrically the album is basic, "I feel like a man", "My girl looks good" playing it safe in every direction. While the guitar use is sadly light, the biggest surprise is Clark's vocals which have noticeably improved. His love for all these styles has always been evident, but he felt light singing some of the more modern R&B infused tracks on Blak & Blu, and while the songs here lack anything unique, his delivery of his love lines is much more polished and successful.

The blandness of the album is clear with the safety nets Clark casts for new age funk ("Can't Sleep"), rap tinged R&B ("Hold On") repetitive 70's style soul ("Star") and programmed sounding beats and bass ("Wings") none of which make a lasting impact. The best of these backwards looking efforts is "Our Love" which incorporates organ work into a retro soul format.

"Grinder" finds Clark using the six strings the most aggressively screaming as a counter point behind his relaxed singing that is listing off a basic "mo'money mo'problems" motif ending up the most interesting track here. His best guitar playing comes on the outro solo of "Stay" feeling menacing, then devolves into the generic hip shake of the unironically titled "Shake".

The album closing slow jam of "Down To Ride" plays as a groovy get down jam and at over seven minutes takes to long to get anywhere feeling under-cooked and flaccid. Clark doesn't need to stay rooted in the blues, and should incorporate different styles to his playing, but when the results end up as forgettable as this perhaps using more of his roots as a basis would be wise.
Catching up on some releases this week that are from earlier in 2015 of artists we like. Clark has now officially fallen into Trombone Shorty and Robert Randolph range of amazing live artists who blew up and then never get it together in the studio, they all should work with some ghost writers for a hit...or maybe work together? We dig him though and wish him (and all of them) the best of luck. Support the artist, buy the album, peep some video:


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