So he says, “You gonna know my name by the end of the night.” But we know it already. He is Gary Clark Jr., and he is super fly and self-assured. He is blistering guitar blues, he is doo-wop, he is suave and silk-sheet R&B, he is Jimi Hendrix (or at least Robin Trower).
He has a peculiar disdain for silent letters, which would not serve him well at spelling bees.
And he is one of those Next Big Things.
His debut LP, Blak and Blu, doesn’t hit the shelves until Tuesday, but hype and his press clippings precede him. Also, six of the album’s dozen songs have previously appeared on various EPs, though in different versions.
The telegenic Texan’s calling card has been a mix of aw-shucks modesty and a blistering way with his big Epiphones and Gibsons. He shoots shotgun wide, spraying across a few popular genres. If you don’t like one style – say, the three-chord choogle and truancy-woes of Travis County – he’ll switch over to another. Perhaps the low-bouncing hip-hop swing and melancholic half-rap of The Life.
If you’re like me, you won’t care for either of those tracks. But that’s okay. Remember, Clark has all night.
But, then, on the fuzzy, chunky and funky Kravitz-rock of Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ For Nothin’), our man is impatient. He’s waiting for “something,” but has no need for salivation or false promises. “Don’t get me jumping for nothing,” he sings, eyes on the pulpit.
On the brass-charged go-go of Ain’t Messin’ Round, Clark suggests, in his best Curtis Mayfield falsetto, “play it cool.” He takes his own advice. In the left channel, his guitar riff is snakey and snazzy. In the right, it is sharp, short slashes of rhythm at work. The up-groove moves hips.
More than once, Clark shows his sensitive side. The title track (which, stylistically, reminds us that we haven’t heard from the velvet R&B crooner D’Angelo in some time) is slow and trippy. It’s about people bruising each other, specifically alluding to child abuse by the song’s end.
Please Come Home is sweetie-man doo-wop. The guitar solo? It is his heartfelt plea for you, girl. Yes, he’s showing off a little bit, too. Things Are Changin’ is Spinners-like courtship. Except that while the Spinners’ promise was “I’ll be around,” Clark’s situation is more fluid. He’s up front about that, though.
A reworking of Hendrix’s psychedelic-sunrise Third Stone From The Sun is part of a medley with Little Johnny Taylor’s (by way of Albert Collins) If You Love Me Like You Say. It’s a charismatic and soulful homage, two for the price of one, with a scratching-vinyl effect done on his strings. Last track Next Door Neighbor Blues moans on the front porch, acoustic-Mississippi style, with a dusty boot-stomped rhythm.
Clark aims to please all sorts with his happening (if disparate) major-label debut. His fans are Black Keys-loving hipsters, southern soul-rock diggers, old-timers and admiring ladies. He misses no tricks; he’s a winker.
The stealth blues Bright Lights lyrically borrows from Jimmy Reed’s Bright Lights, Big City, with Clark singing about himself rather than Reed’s woman and her bedazzlement by urban neon. His story concerns a city that has knocked an overwhelmed young man for a loop. But he’s not staying on the ground. In fact, look up already. That is Clark’s name on the marquee.
MORE NEW RELEASES
- Come Home to Mama
- Martha Wainwright
- Maple Music
- Three and a half stars
However soothing its title may seem, Wainwright’s fourth album is slyly disquieting, its lush beauty often camouflaging the sharp-edged emotion of the lyrics. Yes, Proserpina is a lush chamber ballad about how the goddess Hera longs for her lost daughter; it’s also the last song Wainwright’s mother, Kate McGarrigle, ever wrote, and that puts a haunting spin on its “Come home to mama” refrain. But even though the album is littered with broken lives, from the post-breakup detritus in All Your Clothes to the blood on the highway climax of Four Black Sheep, there’s a beauty and gentleness to the music – and Wainwright’s singing – that somehow reassures. J.D. Considine
Martha Wainwright plays Montreal, Nov. 5; Quebec City, Nov. 6; Almonte, Ont., Nov. 7; Toronto, Nov. 8.
- Shut Down the Streets
- AC Newman
- Matador/Last Gang
- Three stars
With his third solo album, the New Pornographers’ Carl Newman issues tuneful, gentle dispatches from his new real life. He is “alive with firsts,” as he puts it, on the outdoorsy pop shuffle of The Troubadour, “about to learn, about to burst, but still turning from the worst.” The worst involves the feathery, eloquent title track – a sweet eulogy that is upbeat and restrained at once. And though it is the record’s final song, it feels like a starting point. Newman, you see, is a humbled first-time father, singing from his new home in Woodstock, N.Y, where he wrote and recorded sublime things like the twinkling, waltzing You Could Get Lost Out Here. He doesn’t seem lost, though; he sounds found. Brad Wheeler
A.C. Newman plays Toronto’s Lee’s Palace, Oct. 21. Upcoming dates at acnewman.net
- Amelia Curran
- Six Shooter
- Three and a half stars
Bob Dylan sang that there wasn’t room enough to be anywhere, and that it wasn’t dark yet but it was getting there. It is possible that the St. John’s singer-songwriter Amelia Curran feels the same way. Her lyrics are poetic and dusky – affecting existential meditations on role and place, set to shore-wave rhythms. “What slip of the hard hand will close the big show,” she asks on What Will You Be Building, a soft-horned requiem. Elsewhere she questions the purpose of songbirds and sobbing sirens or all who “race to make their mark before the theatre goes dark.” The Joni-like Years is the strumming stuff of serious reflection. There are regrets and victories, and a message to Dylan and anyone who needs to know: That it is nowhere near sunset – “baby, we’ve got years, yet.” B.W.
Amelia Curran plays Charlottetown’s Trailside Café, Oct. 22 and 23; Halifax’s Spatz Theatre, Oct. 25. Upcoming dates at ameliacurran.com.
- Claude Debussy: Préludes
- Pierre-Laurent Aimard, piano
- Deutsche Grammophon
- Three stars
Debussy’s descriptive titles invite visualization. That is not what we get from French pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard. If one wants to picture a misty morning in “Brouillards,” there are pianists who make that easy, not the least of whom is Pascal Rogé, whose Préludes (on the Onyx label) are among the most evocative on the market. Aimard is a precise and intellectual pianist, and when he does conjure up an association with the title, it usually comes through a filter. His Préludes share the more abstract musical world of the Etudes, where Debussy’s innovative textures and harmonies can be appreciated on musical – or technical – terms alone. But if Aimard’s playing stifles the pictorial, it also concentrates attention on the sheer novelty of Debussy’s language. Some of his interpretations do sound clinical, but others make us marvel. Elissa Poole