At first glance and upon initial listen, Gary Clark, Jr.'s Live North America 2016 suggests a holding pattern on his rapidly-developing career. More careful perusal, however, reveals the man's second concert release, out in fairly quick succession to both Live (Warner Bros., 2014) and his last studio album, The Story of Sunny Boy Slim (Warner Bros., 2015), is the full and complete personal artistic statement the latter title purported to be, as well as harbinger of future stylistic changes.
In its pure unadulterated emotional and sonic form, sans overdubs of any kind, the honest power of Clark and his band's musicianship sheds a discernibly different light on the polished likes of the aforementioned studio work, During the seven (!) culls from from that aforementioned record, including "Grinder" and "The Healer," the guitarist/vocalist depicts how forcefully he can parlay this music in practiced, natural collaboration with guitarist Eric 'King' Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley and drummer Johnny Radelat. And while the cacophonous closer, "Numb," is a carryover from the prior double live release, it still sounds so close to the artist's heart and soul; as such, it will be sure to satiate the appetites of the most ravenous guitar hero-worshipers
As world-weary as are Clark's vocals at times-and outright plaintive in his falsetto on "Our Love")-his guitar playing is pointed as it is passionate. He knows how to formulate a thought and state it so forthrightly he neither overextends himself or wastes notes even on "When My Train Pulls In," the longest track here at just shy of ten minutes duration. In compensation for such repeats, the two 'new' numbers on this single, twelve-track CD, covers of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I do" and Elmore James' "My Baby's Gone," reaffirm Clark's blues roots as much as the hypnotic r&b/soul styling of "Down to Ride" broadens the depiction of his stylistic influences.
Meantime, the guest appearances of vocalist Leon Bridges and saxophonist Jeff Dazey on "Shake" suggest an eclectic approach in a different form. While this cut is of a piece with the rest of this record, the continuity enacted by Clark's abrasive slide guitar, the contrast offered by the extra voice and the horn gives a hint about how the Austin native's music would sound with an expanded ensemble. As a result, the intrinsic value of the Live North America 2016 transcends first impressions, reaffirming what fans of Gary Clark Jr. already know so well (and savor) while representing a memorable introduction to the casual listener not so familiar with his work.
Grinder; The Healing; Our Love; Cold Blooded; When My Train Pulls In; Down To Ride; You Saved Me; Shake; Church; Honest I Do; My Baby's Gone; Numb.
Gary Clark Jr.: vocals, guitars, harmonica; Eric 'King' Zapata: guitars Johnny Bradley: bass, background vocals; Johnny Radelat: Drums, background vocals Leon Bridges: vocals (track eight only); Jeff Dazey: saxophone (track eight only).