It’s tough to follow up a solid first album, it’s doable, but very tough. In 2015, 3 years on after Blak and Blu, Gary Clark Jr has brought us his second studio album The Story of Sonny Boy Slim.
His debut record Blak and Blu showed off a variety of genres, ranging from garage to blues to hip-hop. The Story of Sonny Boy Slim still has some variety but feels much more refined, much more steeped in the Texas blues that he was raised in.
Sonny Boy Slim is a journey through music and that which has influenced him. Songs such as ‘Star’ take a much softer sound and ‘Our Love’ is clearly gospel influenced. Gary’s music is still easy to connect with and that is what endeared Blak and Blu to me, regardless of what style he chooses for the song his writing still does it for me.
‘Star’ and the gospel/folk hybrid ‘Church’ prove to be a bit of a lull, although ‘Church’ in itself is a journey of self-medication and finding the help needed to get through troubled times. It’s a fairly simple song, he found God and music, but again, it’s easy to connect with his music because when it comes to the life of the ordinary man he’s not forgotten where he came from.
The first track on Sonny Boy Slim, ‘The Healing’, sets his stall out right away. He laments a world that has gone awry: “Cause in this world upsets me / This music sets me free.”
Music is not just his escapism from the world, it’s his saviour.
Gary Clark eases us into the album with ‘The Healing’ and then grabs us with the much heavier ‘Grinder’ which shows off much more of the “classic” Gary Clark sound, along with ‘Stay’, with heavy licks and his smooth vocals.
‘Hold On’ is probably the highlight of the album, combining hip-hop and blues to issue an honest account of growing up surrounded by prejudice and the perseverance needed to not only tolerate the ignorance, but survive. He doesn’t growl his way through the song nor sound particularly aggressive, the power is in the writing.
The injustice is there and it’s not okay, but again, music is what heals him. ‘Hold On’ is a very important song in an album that is rooted and engrained in, for lack of a better term, “black culture”.
Sonny Boy Slim ends its journey with the much heavier ‘Stay’ and the straight blues ‘Shake’, two songs which are sure to get his crowds pumped up, and then the 8 minute ‘Down to Ride’.
Where ‘Shake’ is a song that he clearly had fun writing and playing, ‘Down to Ride’ is a much more personal song. The world he enjoys is in the car, cruising down the road with a girl he cares for. It’s a world that we all yearn for in some way, and he knows to embrace it whilst he has it.
Gary Clark is not afraid to pull out the synth on this R&B influenced track. The lyrics are a bit repetitive, but it’s a nice way to book end the album.
Music is his healing, and it’s better to enjoy it with a partner.
Sonny Boy Slim is not as raw as Blak and Blu but it maintains the variety that helped him gain many fans. Gary Clark Jr is already in a delicate place in his career, he’s got the chops and the talent to be huge but he runs the risk of being swallowed by the immense hype that surrounds him already.
So what do you do when the whirlwind of hype gets too much? If you’re Gary Clark Jr, you go home to Texas with your guitar and remember what made you play in the first place. Whether it be the blues records or an escape from racial prejudice and lay down a killer album that tells the story of what made you the person you are today.
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