Out of a long line of musicians from Austin, TX emerges yet another: Gary Clark Jr., the “Future of Texas Blues.” As complementary as this exaltation may appear, the epithet doesn’t quite cast a wide enough net to ensnare his assorted repertoire. Sure, his in-between notes and uniquely devised space blues scales delve into an Eastern realm, psychedelically showered with overtones of the Deep South, but GCJ is much more…
Clark broke onto the scene in precocious fashion, making his performing debut on stage with Hubert Sumlin at the tender age of 14. Now, at 26, he’s a veritable rock deity in Texas, having played with virtually every living legend of rock & roll, while embarking on missions across the globe to Asia, Europe, and throughout North America.
Clark’s latest release in two years is the Gary Clark Jr. EP:
“Intro” begins with a steady drum roll. An announcement by the sentinels that the floodgates of electric liquidity will imminently pour through the promenade. Just beyond the trumpets, also played by Clark, a presage of electric chords effortlessly drooling in a playful banter with the celestial background vocals lightly lurking. The track certainly spreads a raw blanket of sound—a recorded in the bedroom at 5 en la madrugada kind of feel, ironically ushering a new day from the heels of the prior’s terminus.
Next, “Bright Lights” congeals rather cautiously, opening with a fierce guitar riff from Zapata welcoming Gary’s warm vocals that have somehow emerged from the cave where they’ve been hiding. As the song progresses, Clark demonstratively wails, “You gonna know my name.” Yes, now we do!
“I Don’t Owe You a Thang” begins with a consistent drum beat throughout the song like a steam locomotive chugging down the tracks. J.J. Johnson’s tom rolls emphasize Clark’s persistent independence from his perceived female suitor, demanding she accept him “as is.” After each verse remarking, “I don’t owe you a thang,” I imagine the female’s immediate retort, “oh yes you do.”
“Please Come Home” Clark switches gears while seemingly regretting his obstreperous insistence from the previous track. Now that he’s driven her away, he makes her melt from afar. Clark serves this dessert track in a cool falsetto, which the Platters or any Motown band would have loved to have captured first.
“The Life” clearly demonstrates Clark’s prodigious versatility, taking command of his R&B proclivities, in describing the balky sensations one experiences upon awakening after an extended, overly imbibed night on the town. This track is almost an R&B analog to “Bright Lights”. An acknowledgment of past mistakes, tempted by an appreciation for the present, which must be reconciled with moving forward in the spirit of well-being for the future.
“Things are Changing” showcases Clark’s tenderness, yet realism about the agony & ecstasy of relating to his significant other. This is a peaceful slow jam meant for a late evening rendezvous, yet recognizes the contemporary struggles and uncertainty in society today.
Drifting. In this exhibition of frenetic bliss Clark wields his Excalibur. No vocals necessary in this soundscape, as the chords deliver their finest plea of divinity. Pali Gap, meet Mr. GCJ and his secret weapon on this track: the Ibanez Blazer.
Breakdown discusses the trepidations of life in a security state, and the oxymoronic nature inherent in such a system. Oddly enough, and besides “The Life,” this is probably the most radio/pop friendly cut on the EP. GCJ talks us through the institutional pitfalls and booby traps of day to day life, while also honing in on the psychological constitution one needs to navigate through such potential entrapments. The message is clear: don’t stop pushing, keep moving, and your sought after outcome will eventually prevail.
The EP serves as a cross-section of Clark’s ability to move in any direction, at times juking the listener, making him guess which wormhole he will travel through next. After listening to the EP, the listener undoubtedly understands Gary Clark Jr. is an artist whose songs could be played on various radio stations, from college/indie rock to r&b and pop, in any given market. This listener could envision the day where GCJ is played on each station simultaneously…
I don’t know how to classify this body of work—the project embodies elements of Rock/R&B/Pop/Soul/Blues/Alt.Rock/Soft Rock/Country.
Flanked by JJ Johnson on drums (John Mayer), Scott Nelson on bass (Kenny Wayne Shepherd), and lifelong compatriot Zapata, also a lead guitarist in his own right, I can say without equivocation this guy is going to be huge. Just remember, you heard it here first!
Gary Clark Jr. – “Intro”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Bright Lights”
Gary Clark Jr. – “I Don’t Owe You A Thang”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Please Come Home”
Gary Clark Jr. – “The Life”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Things Are Changing”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Outro”
Gary Clark Jr. – “Breakdown”