Not since the heyday of fellow Texas son Stevie Ray Vaughan has a contemporary act emerged to shake the tree of American blues quite like Gary Clark, Jr. But the way the 31-year-old Austin native does his thing is closer to the cloth of the other blues lion of the 1980s, Mr. Robert Cray. And just as the Augustus, Ga. guitar great played the blues through a filter of Stax soul and Luther-esque R&B, Clark is changing the game in a similar sense by integrating the sounds of Usher and D’Angelo into his updated brand of Lone Star blues, as can be heard on the likes of “Star”, “Hold On” and most especially “Can’t Sleep,” which deserves some spins on urban radio, for real.
For those who arrive to The Story of Sonny Boy Slim with the expectations to have your wig split by Clark’s championship guitar playing, help yourself to scorching cuts like “Grinder,” where he takes the Albert King cry to bold new heights, and “Stay,” which surely has both Lightnin’ Hopkins and Albert Collins smiling up in heaven. He even saves room to tip his hat to acoustic blues masters like Taj Mahal and Richie Havens on “Church,” and hip-hop on the album’s eight-minute coda “Down to Ride.”
What makes it all work so well and blend so nicely together on The Story of Sonny Boy Slim is the cold fact that Clark is as talented a songwriter as he is a musician. It’s a deadly combination the blues very much needed in the millennial era, and should be celebrated as a creative shot in the arm for its genre the way Kamasi Washington’s The Epic is doing for jazz or Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly is for hip-hop.