Anyone who's had the privilege to see Gary Clark Jr. in concert knows that his previous recordings, on his own Hotwired Records as well as the two major label titles, are but sketches of how he's progressively forging influences of rock, blues and r&b into a stirring style of his own. Live
preserves for posterity a charisma that's growing in proportion to the confidence he brandishes on "Bright Lights."
Recorded at various stops during tours of 2013 and 2014, this two-CD set showcases the main touchpoints in Clark's developing oeuvre. The dramatic opening of Muddy Waters
' "Catfish Blues" nevertheless leads into an economical reading of the blues Buddha's tune that was, no doubt not coincidentally, recorded by the late guitar icon Jimi Hendrix
, whose own piece of atmospheric artistry, "Third Stone from the Sun," appears later on linked to Little Johnny Taylor's "If you Love Me Like You Say." Along the way, B.B. King
's "Three O'clock Blues" appears as another signpost of roots, as does Albert Collins
' "If Trouble Was Money," rendered with the nonchalance of a guitarist and singer who knows exactly how good he's getting to be.
Gary Clark Jr.'s surety in his own playing, however, is directly linked to the virtues he displays as a songwriter and bandleader. And while "Travis County" echoes Chuck Berry as loudly as "When My Train Pulls In" hearkens to Hendrix ("Hear My Train A Comin'" redux?), there's no disputing the jollity of the former or the despair of the latter, even as the corrosive sound of Clark's guitar playing, in turns, elevates the joy and exorcises that pain. Buttressing the force of that former track is guitarist King Zapata's initial solo, while the rhythm section of drummer Johnny Radelat and bassist Johnny Bradley best display their bond by remaining fluid on the latter. And with no overt overdubs, the clarity and depth of the sound, co- produced by Clark himself and engineer Bharath "Cheex" Ramanath, only adds to the impact of the collective musicianship of Live
The focus of the band mirrors that of their leader, whose abbreviated and lighthearted banter with the audience(s) is in turn a reflection of his deceptively boyish demeanor: there's no doubting the pleasure he takes in performing. But in a further affirmation of the range of emotion at his command, there's also the depth of his emotion on "Please Come Home," sung entirely in a unwavering falsetto, that simultaneously calls to mind Marvin Gaye and transcends the comparison. Gary Clark Jr. might consider devising concert presentations that include an opening solo interval like this, or the solo guitar/harmonica closer "When the Sun Goes Down," as those numbers offer a far better extension of his persona than the more contemporary influences that simply diluted the force of Black and Blu
(Warner Bros., 2012).
The setlist that comprises Live
may seem overly familiar to attendees of his shows, but its sequence of fifteen songs nevertheless supplies a point of reference as striking as it is stable, the sum effect of which should allow this nascent guitar hero to both transcend the hype and meet (and quite likely exceed) the expectations of music lovers just discovering him via this release.
CD1: Catfish Blues; Next Door Neighbor Blues; Travis Country; When My Train Pulls In;
Don't Owe You a Thing; Three O'Clock Blues; Things Are Changin'. Numb CD 2: Ain't
Messin' 'Round; If Trouble Was Money; Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You
Say;Please Come Home; Blak and Blu; Bright Lights; When the Sun Goes Down.
Gary Clark Jr.: vocals, lead guitar, harmonica; King Zapata: guitars; Johnny Bradley: bass;
Johnny Radelat: drums