A big, thick slab of blues, rock, R&B, and whatever the fuck he wants, Gary Clark Jr.’s EP is the first masterpiece I’ve heard all year. Now sure, The Bright Lights is only four songs long and it clocks in at just a pinch over 21 minutes. In those 21 minutes, however, Clark Jr. bares his teeth and beats the hell out of his guitar in ways that you have to hear to believe.
The most pressing matter is how hard this Austin, Texas, native hits when he wants to. He offsets it with some truly lovely acoustic work on two live tracks, but the roaring opening cut and the spectacular blues hop of “Don’t Owe You a Thang” really cut deep.
There are a lot of cool cats digging into the blues these days and pulling up all sorts of good shit. The Black Keys, one of my favourite modern acts, yanks the gravel through a poppy strainer and comes up roses. There’s Jack White, with his garage and country web, and dudes like Ben Harper, who melt the method with some folk.
Clark Jr. is on a whole other level. Everything he does is pure blues, even when he philanders with moist R&B and caresses the chapped lips of flannel-wearing grunge rock.
What we have with Clark Jr. is a heart for tradition and a soul for the future. It’s an essential fusion, one that should provide for a broad, extraordinary career.
“Bright Lights” opens the EP with a smouldering guitar that wails and wails away ruthlessly. I shit you not, I was sweating by the time this cut was finished kicking my ass. With fashionable, snug drums backing things up, Clark Jr.’s lyrical flow is something special. “You gonna know my name,” he says. Damn right.
“Don’t Owe You a Thang” is an old school boogie with more blistering guitar. It’s the short of shit that would set a raucous roadhouse on fire on a Saturday night.
There are also two acoustic live cuts on The Bright Lights EP. “Things Are Changin’” wanders closer to the Ben Harper mould, oozing with sweet soul and Clark Jr.’s velvety vocal tones. The humble guitar is the perfect accompaniment, never overshadowing the story but refusing to duck down.
“When My Train Pulls In” is a shot in a different direction. This acoustic piece is a tough, exhaustive number that finds Clark Jr. drilling away with a set of solos that will blow your mind to pieces. He again explores the slicker tones of his vocal range, but the brasher, more adamant guitar pleasantly offsets this.
If there’s any justice in the world, and I hope there is, we’ll be hearing a whole lot more from Gary Clark Jr. in the near future. With a few EPs under his belt and a whole lot of soul jammed into every touch of the strings, this is one blues cat you can’t afford to miss if you dig honest music.