Published Sep 09, 2015Burgeoning blues star Gary Clark Jr. cranks the volume to the max on his new LP, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, and unleashes numerous thunderous riffs in the process. Opening track "The Healing" begins with a gospel a cappella intro that draws on the sound of the Mississippi Delta. But Clark quickly breaks free of that mould, and follows that intro with deeply contrasting arena-ready guitar solos and a fist pump-worthy "yeah yeah" chorus. While the tune has a notable blues undercurrent, that aspect is dwarfed by the song's massive guitar work, which is as catchy as it is unexpected.
Clark employs a similar mix of blues-tinged modern rock on the aptly titled "Grinder," which features riffs that spark with palpable friction, especially when Clark lets lose with a high pitched, sustained squealing solo halfway through the track.
This adoption of slick, of-the-day stylings isn't the only surprise that Clark has in store for listeners here. An even bigger shocker may be the quality of his singing, which gets little attention compared to his renowned guitar chops. The Story of Sonny Boy Slim should help his voice get the recognition it deserves, especially tracks like "Star," which finds him unveiling a heart-wrenching falsetto, and "Our Love," on which his high pitched moans are matched to perfection with a melancholic organ.
Blues traditionalists will be pleased to hear "Church," a midway track with strumming, gospel-flavoured accompanying vocals and gusts of wistful harmonica akin to a deep Southern breeze. "Wings" is another number leaning on the more conventional side, what with its crunchy riffs and restrained tone. But those more subdued tunes are outnumbered by The Story's far greater total of FM radio-ready tunes with modern rock flourishes, not to mention the upbeat funky bass groove of "Can't Sleep," a track that wouldn't sound out of place on a Rick James release.
These head scratching elements, and more, make The Story of Sonny Boy Slim an album that's impossible to pin down, which will help Clark break free of any "blues-throwback" pigeonholing. It's a pleasant surprise to hear that he's capable of so much more. (Warner Bros.)