"Blak and Blue," Gary Clark Jr. #MusicMonday

Monday, January 27, 2014

Coming off the heels of last night's Grammy Awards, I wanted to devote today's blog to yet another Grammy nominee (and winner of Best Traditional R&B Performance): Gary Clark Jr. What's particularly interesting Gary Clark Jr. is that he was nominated in two seemingly disparate categories: Best Rock Song (for "Ain't Messin 'Round") and Best R&B Performance (for "Please Come Home"). At the 2012-2013 Austin Music Awards, he won Musician of the Year, Band of the Year, Song of the Year , Album of the Year, Electric Guitarist of the Year, Songwriter of the Year, Blues/Soul/Funk Artist of the Year, Male Vocalist of the Year. Phew. So what -- or who -- exactly is this guy?

To start off with, 29-year-old Gary Clark Jr. was born and raised in Austin, Texas, and has been playing the guitar since the age of 12. He's been called "the future of Texas blues," which incorporates more guitar than "regular" blues, and swing. He reminds of everyone from Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz, The Black Keys, John Mayer to ... Jeff Buckley and '90s ska-punk artists!? This guy does it all, and then some. He makes good use of the electric guitar on his 2012 album "Blak and Blue," and he likes it muddled and hazy. Just as odd as the melange of categories he's been nominated in is the juxtaposition of songs on "Blak and Blue": following a smoky, bluesy number ("When My Train Pulls In"), he immediately jumps into a soft, smooth and pared down R&B number ("Blak and Blue"), as if the R&B song serves as some sort of interlude.

I'm kind of persnickety about the make-up of musical albums: if the music is too eclectic, I find that it lacks cohesion. If the music is all too similar, I can find it insipid and forgettable. Pop stars, with their million-dollar production teams and often formulaic music careers, often find an easy balance between different genres without ever straying too far from inoffensive pop. But for genre artists, this can be much more difficult. Gary Clark Jr. has even more at risk here, because unlike the pop stars' music, there is no underlying genre to "Blak and Blue." There's obviously blues and R&B, but there's also rock and country, and maybe even a little ska -- maybe all appearing at the same time on the track "You Saved Me." While it would hurt an "American Idol" contestant to not know what kind of artist they want to be, in the real world, it seems to work without a hitch.

Gary Clark Jr. maintains interest throughout "Blak and Blue" with his chameleon-like musicianship, but maybe it's because he's not a genre artist. Maybe he actually defies genre.

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