Texas guitar ace Gary Clark, Jr., who at his best sounds like nothing so much as the past and the future of the blues, has been compared to guitar icons like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. His playing is a powerful and inspired mix of blues roots with some contemporary soul and hip-hop touches, but it remains the blues always, and the blues is perhaps even more central to his sound than it was for either Hendrix or Vaughan. Clark's major-label debut, 2012's Blak and Blu, stretched the blues thing a bit thin in places, and it only partially resembled his live sets, which were wild, gritty, and often beautifully elegant surveys of electric blues, with Clark's solid originals settling nicely with vintage covers, all with no frills and gimmick-free. Clark, for all the press about it, has never really been about being clever and innovative with the blues, but prefers instead to stand for its strong tradition, and just bring what he brings to the table without a whole lot of fuss. That's what his live sets are about, and this double-disc live album, recorded during a 18-month-long tour in 2013 and 2014, reveals a clearer and more in-focus look at what Clark offers than Blak and Blu does. Mixing select blues covers with standout Clark originals from Blak and Blu, Live is a wonderful introduction to a fine young guitar player, songwriter, and singer. Opening with a thunderous version of Robert Petway's "Catfish Blues," this set never falters through Clark originals like the Chuck Berry-ish romp "Travis County," the timeless-sounding "When My Train Pulls In," and the monster Jimmy Reed homage "Bright Lights," and seamlessly blends in covers of Lowell Fulson's "Three O'Clock Blues" and Albert Collins' "If Trouble Was Money" and "If You Love Me Like You Say," the latter of which is paired with Jimi Hendrix's "Third Stone from the Sun" in a striking ten-plus-minute medley. Clark closes things out with a gentle, sparse, and striking version of Leroy Carr's "When the Sun Goes Down." This is an impressive live set, with crisp playing and sharp sound, and, best of all, it lets Clark play the blues and shine with energy, passion, and a good deal of grace while staying free of the bells and whistles the studio affords. In Clark's case, he doesn't need bells and whistles. He plays the guitar, really good guitar, and if this is indeed the past and future of the blues rolled into one, then the blues appears to be in really good hands.
AllMusic Review by Steve Leggett
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2