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Published: 2011/08/11
by Brian Robbins

Gary Clark Jr.
The Bright Lights EP

Warner Brothers

Oh, my.

Brace off and get ready, folks. What we have here may just be this decade’s blues guitar savior. No kidding.

In just four songs (two with a full band and two with just his trusty Epiphone in hand), 26-year-old Gary Clark Jr. leaves no doubt but that he’s ready to move beyond the loving embrace of his home state of Texas and lay his bad-ass bluesy/soulful/psychedelic self on the rest of the world. If you were lucky enough to attend (or catch the DVD of) Eric Clapton’s 2010 Crossroads Guitar Festival, then you’ve already had a little taste of what Gary Clark Jr. can do. And The Bright Lights EP offers up a little more.

It was the EP’s title track that Clark and his band blistered through at the Crossroad’s Festival last year – a thump-wump blues lurch that takes one look at the big world and makes a promise: “You’re gonna know my name by the end of the night.” And then ensures that you do with a full-gale blast of guitar squall that echoes many great influences and imitates none. Clark never resorts to flashy splatters of notes; rather, he mines each and every one, holding its soul up to the moonlight and totally absorbing it before moving on to the next one.

Lurch is replaced by full-stomp boogie on “Don’t Owe You A Thing”, a John Lee Hooker-ish romp that ain’t nothing but fun and nasty-ass-sounding guitar. When Clark lunges into the solo at the 1:19 mark, he finds every possible nook and cranny to work around in the song’s one-chord main groove. Have mercy.

Clark is impressive enough as a vocalist (capable of equally-authentic growl or croon); it’s his guitar work, though, that takes things over the top. And that is as multi-faceted as his voice. The live “Things Are Changin’” gives Clark the opportunity to be both Tuck and Patti, all smooth jazz with guitar work that fully complements the vocals without challenging them.

My personal favorite on the four-tune sampler is “When My Train Pulls In”. Check out the jam – again, just Clark and his big ol’ red Epiphone Casino – where he makes the subtle shift from the song’s minor blues-based mode to a major one, percolating the bass strings until he finds a comfy entry into the main theme from “Third Stone From The Sun”. Clark hovers in that space for a bit, allowing it to bubble up and develop before gliding into a little flurry of rhythm work that is both lovely and powerful – letting it cascade and tumble down into a hard-edged, slashing finale that returns to the song’s original riff just as it ends. Obviously recorded in a small club, Clark’s audience roars their approval. “Thank you,” he says, almost shyly.

No – thank you. And bring on the long player.

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