Anyone who thought that Gary Clark Jr.‘s smash debut on Warner Brothers Records, Blak and Blu, might not have been, well, bluesy enough probably isn’t likely to have the same view of the rising guitarist’s new live album, out today, compiled from Clark’s performances in clubs, theaters, arenas, and festivals throughout the world during the past year and a half. Not only does the double-disc set kick off with a biting, slow stumbling cover of the Robert Petway classic “Catfish Blues” (which you may recall Clark also having performed at the Red, White & Blues celebration that took place at the White House in early 2012) followed by Clark’s own driving “Next Door Neighbor Blues”, but it also features a number of other great blues tunes delivered in the key of Gary, including some superb slow blues takes on Lowell Fulson’s “Three O’Clock Blues”, Albert Collins’ “If Trouble was Money”, and the closing “When the Sun Goes Down” (Leroy Carr), as well as a ten-and-a-half minute Jimi Hendrix/Albert Collins medley of “Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say” that stretches from funky to downright smoking.
The set of course includes many other songs off Blak and Blu, from the story of a brush with the local law in the rocking “Travis County” and a grungy “Bright Lights” that had to come close to blowing the roof off of whatever venue it was recorded to the quiet, falsetto vocals of “Please Come Home” (for which Clark earlier this year earned a Grammy Award for best traditional R&B performance) and a flowing “Things are Changin'” that incorporates a bit more of an R&B groove than usual in addition to serving as a particularly fine example of the smoothness and range of Clark’s voice, also evidenced on songs like the aforementioned “When the Sun Goes Down” – featuring Clark on both guitar and harmonica – and a slightly faster-and-grittier-than-studio version of “Ain’t Messin’ ‘Round”.
Indeed, no one can ever accuse Clark of playing his songs just the same live as does on his recordings. Here, that also includes such touches as the addition of a few Mississippi Delta-style licks before the band tears into the fuzz-filled hypnotic rhythm of “Numb”, some nice pedal effects on the shuffling “Don’t Owe You a Thang”, and an especially intense guitar solo during the steely, creeping “When My Train Pulls In”. As you might expect, the solos – including quite a few from second guitarist King Zapata – are aplenty, often fiery, but always unique, and it’s terrific to hear the crowd’s reactions to Gary’s songs and how he and his band respond to that energy, with many of the tracks clocking in over six minutes and plenty of “whoo!”s from Clark throughout the set.
As truly remarkable as Blak and Blu was, it isn’t until you add in both the bluesier and live sides of Clark that you get a complete picture of the talents of this up-and-coming artist, making Gary Clark Jr. – Live hands down the best we’ve heard from him yet.