Album of the Week: Gary Clark Jr., 'The Story of Sonny Boy Slim'


Gary Clark Jr, 'The Story of Sonny Boy Slim'
Gary Clark Jr, 'The Story of Sonny Boy Slim' (Warner Bros. Records)

In a recent interview with NPR, bluesman Buddy Guy discussed his worries about the future of blues music: Will future generations play it? Will future generations listen to and appreciate it? If there's one contemporary artist putting Guy's worries to rest, it's Austin, Texas-based blues rocker, Gary Clark Jr.; Buddy Guy has even gone as far as to proclaim Gary Clark Jr. an artist who might just save the blues.

Gary Clark Jr. released his debut record, Blak and Blu, in 2012, which was met with critical acclaim, multiple awards including a Grammy award for Best Traditional R&B performance of the song "Please Come Home," and it opened a huge door for Clark as a live performer. He found himself going beyond the Austin clubs and playing festivals like Bonnaroo, Glastonbury, and Eric Clapton's Crossroads Festival, opening for the Rolling Stones, and even performing with blues legends at The White House.

Think there's a little pressure on Clark after being proclaimed Buddy Guy's "Chosen One?" I would guess so, and I suspect that kind of pressure has something to do with why it took three years for Clark to put out his follow-up record, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.

True to Buddy Guy's observation, Clark is often referred to as a blues-rock guitarist; in fact, that's how I generally find myself describing his music. When you listen to this new record, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, you'll soon realize Clark's influences are much broader than "the blues," although that's still a big part of it. But I can hear the sounds of Austin, Texas, where the record was made. It's the sound of blues, but it's also largely influenced by soul, R&B, rock and even folk traditions.

Gary Clark Jr. is at his best with that gritty, raw, guitar-driven, blues-rock sound I've come to know him for. Songs that stick out on this new record include "The Healing," "Grinder," and my favorite track on the record, "Shake," which reminds me of the 1960s garage-rock song, "Psychotic Reaction," by the band Count Five — just an awesome, classic-sounding, blues-rock riff.

There are other moments on the album where he goes outside of the blues-rock music box; for example, on songs like "Church," an acoustic, folky song; "Star" and "Our Love" bring out a falsetto singing voice with more of a soul/R&B groove; "Hold On" almost has a hip-hop element in the vocal delivery.

So who is "Sonny Boy Slim," and what's his story? According to an interview on The World Café, Gary Clark Jr. revealed that "Sonny Boy Slim" is a combination of a few of his nicknames. The album is the story of a musician who continues to explore his influences and to reach out beyond guitar-based blues riffs. It's the story of a man who has been developing his live-performance presence since he was a teen. It's the story of Gary Clark Jr.

And it's a story with an exciting chapter yet to come: Clark is playing a sold-out show at First Avenue on Saturday, April 2, 2016. It's quite a testament to Clark's live performance to sell out that far in advance.

And it is quite a testament to the story Gary Clark Jr. continues to write.

Audience ratings for this album

Among The Current's listeners who submitted a rating for this album, two-thirds gave it 5 out of 5 stars. Poll closed at 12 noon on Friday, Sept 25.

Related Stories

  • Listen to 'The Healing', a new song by Gary Clark Jr. Right on the heels of the announcement of a concert tour in support of his forthcoming album, 'The Story of Sonny Boy Slim', Gary Clark Jr. has released the first single from the new LP, 'The Healing.' It debuted on The Current today, and you can listen (or listen again) to the new song here.
  • The Current's Guitar Collection: Gary Clark Jr. When Gary Clark Jr. stopped by The Current to chat with Jill Riley and perform a few songs, she asked him about his guitar. He told us about his first guitar and how he found his latest.
  • Gary Clark Jr. performs live in the UBS Forum Austin, Texas, guitar player Gary Clark Jr. paid a visit to the UBS Forum at Minnesota Public Radio to play an intimate show for a live audience before his sold-out show that night at First Avenue. Between songs, he spoke to Jill Riley about his trajectory thus far and about his approach to music-making.

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