Gary Clark Jr.: Blak and Blu (Warner Bros.) 

Gary Clark Jr. is best when he unleashes some high-intensity guitar, and while his major-label debut has plenty of those fireworks, it's also laden with the excesses of overproduction and indulgent genre hopscotch.

It's hard not to see Warner Bros.' fingerprints on the record and wish that Clark would get a do-over for Blak and Blu. He's a multitalented and electrifying performer, one of the best guitarists of his generation. But instead of blossoming into the next Hendrix, he's being steered toward the next Lenny Kravitz.

The album kicks off on a high note with "Ain't Messin 'Round," a calling card of sorts that has Clark announcing "I don't believe in competition / Ain't nobody else like me around." It's bluesy rock, like Black Joe Lewis with a bit of Daptone soul thrown in.

"When My Train Pulls In" follows with an electrifying guitar workout for half of the song's nearly eight minutes. Here, Clark draws influence from Crazy Horse as much as the blues and pulls it off seamlessly. That great beginning makes "Blak and Blu" such an unwelcome detour, a bit of psychedelic hip-hop that would sound much better leading its own EP.

Clark needs more focus. It's not that he can't do neo soul and hip-hop—he clearly can—but those types of excursions become needless clutter on an otherwise terrific blues-rock album.

Clark is his own man, and Blak and Blue is a good album with some fantastic moments. But it could be better, and it's almost certainly because big-shot producers got in the way of Clark's talents, polishing what should've stayed raw and rough.

More by Eric Swedlund


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