Sound — 6
Upon listening to "Blak and Blu" it became clear that I was listening to an interesting one. Gary Clark, Jr. was introduced to me primarily as a blues guitarist and, although that is apparent on this album, he delves into a number of other genres as well, such as soul, R&B and rock-and-roll. Yes, these genres are closely linked, but it is a rarity to see them together on the same album, which is why this one is interesting.
However, this did put me in a situation where I would listen to one half of the album and skip the other. Although I'd like to think of myself as open-minded when it comes to music, and I admire Clark's bottle for exploring different genres on one album, I just didn't enjoy the R&B stuff. I may be slightly biased, in that I'm not the biggest fan of R&B anyway, but I feel that I could still appreciate "good R&B" and, to me, this just wasn't it.
Now that the R&B stuff is out of the way, I can now say that Clark's blues tracks are highly enjoyable. It gives me the impression that despite all these other genres that he explores, the blues is still his home. And with tracks like "Next Door Neighbour Blues" and the dirty, fuzz-faced "Numb," you can't deny that Clark's blues skills are very good. I also enjoyed the Chuck Berry-esque rock-and-roller, "Travis County."
Lyrics — 7
Clark's blues lyrics tend to be your standard, run-of-the-mill blues lyrics. You have your crumbling relationship in "Numb" ("She give me a hard time in the day / Hard time at night / She can be so sweet 'til she wanna / Fuss and fight"), your woman leaving you in "Next Door Neighbour Blues" ("Got a call from my neighbour this morning / Told me my baby was gone") and your rough neighbourhood in "When My Train Pulls In" ("Walking down the streets you might run across a smiling face / But they'll stab you in the back as soon as you turn and walk away").
Calling them your "standard blues lyrics" may sound like a bit of a criticism, but it is not that at all. The lyrics do not detract anything from the songs. Rather, I feel that the lyrics add to them, because I call them standard blues lyrics but, let's be honest, would we have it any other way?
Clark's R&B lyrics also focus heavily on relationships and hard times, evident in tracks such as "Things Are Changin'" ("Ooh it'd be good to get together girl" / "But it'll be so hard to maintain").
Overall Impression — 7
"Blak and Blu" is definitely an interesting album for me. Although I've criticized the R&B element quite a bit (and, to be honest, I didn't mind "Things Are Changin'"), I can't but admire Clark for exploring these different genres and putting them all on one album. I may warm to the other R&B tracks if I give them time.
Gary Clark, Jr. could have released an all-out blues fest, and it may have been great, but this album showcases the uniqueness of a blues player that can do more. You could probably play two songs off this album to someone and convince them that it is an entirely different artist. Whether that is good or bad is up to you. To me, I think it's a good thing that a blues guitarist can convincingly pull off a number of other genres.
Personal favourites: "Numb," "When My Train Pulls In," "Next Door Neigbour Blues."