Austin-based Gary Clark Jr.'s first major full-length album came preceded by a lot of hype. "Saviour of the Blues," "Gold Corndog" winner (given by Spin magazine for playing in more major North American festivals than anyone) and, according to Rolling Stone, "Best Young Gun." With The Bright Lights EP in 2011 he introduced himself as a virtuoso singer and guitarist with one foot in the present and another one firmly planted in guitar music's glorious past. His live shows are memorable, but did he have enough to hold an entire album? You bet.
Blak and Blu comes at you like a runaway train right from the start: "Ain't Messin' Around" is a soulful, direct attack that sends a loud and clear message: he means business. It is followed by the album's best track, "When My Train Pulls In." At 7:46, it has a killer solo almost as long as the song itself and, not surprisingly, is the song he now uses to open his shows. It's based on a simple, repetitive, blues riff around which the song grows and grows until it explodes and lands back at its starting point. Clark can become Lightnin' Hopkins ("Nextdoor Neighbor Blues"), reinvent Chuck Berry ("Travis County"), and revisit his hit "Bright Lights" with a slightly different (and even better) mix than the one on the EP. But he also cuts the sugar of '50s doo-wop with a knife-like solo ("Please Come Home") and uses a hip-hop beat to sort of rap over modern soul ("The Life"). This guy's an all-around badass. He may start with the blues, but he's all over the place and transcends genre limitations. Believe the hype. —Enrique Lopetegui