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A Disappointing LP with some very bright spots
on October 23, 2012
Having listened to Gary Clark Jr.'s EPs extensively and getting a chance to see him live this year at Lollapalooza, my expectations for this album were almost impossibly high. He is the first guitarist in a long time who can do things with the guitar that truly blow me away, and his Lolla performance gave me the kind of chills I expected after hearing his EPs and understanding what he was capable of.
So it comes as no great surprise that his first major studio-album has left somewhat of a sour taste in my mouth after a few start-to-finish listens. The album starts with blaring horns more reminiscent of a Bruce Springsteen album than someone who has the chance to be this generation's Hendrix. And those horns would serve as an unfortunate omen to the rest of the album - an incredibly overproduced, glaringly obvious attempt to appeal to the masses.
In some ways I can't blame Gary or his producers for putting out something like this. In this age of piracy and pop garbage it's becoming increasingly harder for "real" musicians to make a living. And there are certainly moments on the album that succeed in exhibiting Gary's unbelievable talents (Particularly: When My Train Pulls In, Glitter Ain't Gold, Numb, Third Stone From the Sun, You Saved Me and of course Bright Lights, though I prefer the rawer EP version to this album's version). But mixed within these gems are some songs that I'm not even convinced Gary Clark Jr. himself likes - particularly The Life (which was listenable on the EP version, borderline-embarrassing on this album) and the title track (am I listening to R. Kelly?). Then there's Please Come Home which, in the EP version, has an absolutely spine-tingling solo (starting at 1:35 in for those who want to hear it in its pure form) that has trouble distinguishing itself in the LP version because of the melodies his producers have looped over it.
All in all, there are tracks on this album very much worth listening to. Anyone who has never heard Gary Clark Jr. before will probably be very impressed by the skills that his producers have managed to display on certain tracks. But for Gary purists like myself, this is just another album falling victim to the heavy hand of producers and pop-radio influence. If you like anything you hear on this album, SEE HIM LIVE! He truly is a legend-in-the-making, and his skills can only be fully appreciated while watching his hands navigate the fretboard with the precision of a brain surgeon, creating magical sounds that soothe the soul. My hope is that he will revert back to this ability in future albums, rather than allowing his producers to strive for mass appeal.