I’ve just about never been as gutted as when I heard Gary Clark Jr’s debut studio album. Just awful. He had this rep – and there was loads of evidence, an earlier EP, YouTube clips, cameos, anecdotal evidence piled up; he was the man. The future of blues guitar, relevant today but with adherence to tradition – not just a posturing candy-coloured pretend-throwback….and then that album killed his momentum. It suffered because it had the life sucked out of it – he’d made a bad Lenny Kravitz record – something Lenny Kravitz has been more than capable of doing himself (and for most of his career).
So though a little worried on entry, news of a double live album seemed safe – and, you know, hopefully the playing wasn’t (just) safe.
Well, I’m not sure if Clark Jr is the future of the blues – or if the blues even needs a future (as such) – but this is a whole different kettle; remarkable too for the fact that it features some of those same songs that seemed so lacklustre and – even, at times – downright hideous on Blak and Blu.
Here’s the proof that record was killed in the studio – the songs (none of them great) killed by the arrangements/production. Here Clark goes at it, leading his band, and we get thoughtful, exciting solos, loping bass lines and drums in support – it’s not all tinny and tiny and trying to pack a pop punch.
You can hear that he’s spent time listening to all manner of blues-related acts – from Allman-esque jam-bands all the way back to the kings – B.B. and Albert Collins are represented here, and obvious nods to Hendrix via a version of Third Stone From The Sun and even in the opening rendition of Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues.
It’s a different man – vociferous even. A whole different feel and sound and approach.
It’s what should – actually – have been his debut. But yeah, yeah, sure, it’s a hard-sell to front with a double-live album in this day and age. It’s been a long, long time since The Allman Brothers’ early peak.
But Live – the album – is the proof that those early stories and clips didn’t tell some nasty lie. The lie was that studio embarrassment. The fact that some of that material even stands up here – gets given the chance to soar, in fact – shows that a bird like Gary Clark Jr shouldn’t be caged.