I have a couple problems with Gary Clark Jr’s debut album, Blak and Blu. First, the title of the album is stupid. Just spell your words correctly. It’s not that hard. Second, and more importantly, the album shows just what Gary Clark Jr. is capable of, but falls short of greatness by showing us that he hasn’t yet found his identity. There are a few absolutely outstanding tracks on this album, but there are a few that show a lack of direction and some confusion as to who he wants to be.
First, let’s start with the positives. For all of you who first heard Gary Clark Jr with his phenomenal song, “Bright Lights”, you’ll be pleased to know that it’s on the album and there are more on here like it. With tracks like “When My Train Pulls In” and “Travis County”, Clark shows that he’s got the chops to create those anthemic and traditional rock songs led by great almost harsh sounding guitars that evoke Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix. He’s certainly got the talent. With “Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ for Nothin’)”, Clark shows he’s got the skill to be an excellent songwriter as well. “We’re a step away from breaking down,/ I need something good now./ Hey, hey, don’t get me jumpin’ for nothin’.”
“Numb”, “Things are Changin'” and “Next Door Neighbor Blues” are all songs that show that Clark really understand where he comes from and his influences. It doesn’t help to solidify a direction for the album, other than showing off the various ways that Clark can wail on a guitar. “Third Stone From The Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say” is a classic, a 9:38 song that changes and morphs constantly and shows both guitar skill and emotional songwriting. It’s nice to hear those 10 minute rock songs like we used to before I was born.
Now, the negatives. The biggest problem with this album is that Gary Clark Jr. or his production team or his label decided that he should do a song from every genre that he was capable of. The result is a mixed bag with phenomenal songs and skippable songs. The title track has Clark pretending to be Usher, which is fine except he doesn’t play the guitar at all. What’s the point of being Gary Clark Jr. if you’re not going to play the guitar? Also, “The Life”, which begins with an inhalation and exhalation of smoke (I assume), tries to be more of a rap song than a rock song and seems completely out of place on this album. It’s a fine song, I guess, but seems like a waste of 5 minutes on this album.
The album kicks off with “Ain’t Messin’ Around” and the line “I don’t believe in competition, there ain’t no one like me around”. This is true, but it’s also the problem with this album. Since Clark doesn’t believe in competition, we get Blak and Blu, an album that seems to lack an identity. Despite it’s flaws, however, it shows what Clark is capable of and has us hoping he defines himself a little better on his sophomore album.