Gary Clark Jr.

The Story of Sonny Boy Slim (Warner Bros.)

Texas Platters

What's a guitar slinger to do when the thrill of a solo fades? In the case of Gary Clark Jr., you follow a double live LP heavy on six-string fireworks with a one-man-band studio album that establishes a more distinctive vision by putting the axe in a support position. Self-producing himself locally at Arlyn, Austin's great blues-guitar hope downplays the lead-centric style that made him a hot commodity at festivals. Instead, Clark pivots his tunesmithery around lubed rhythms and soulful vocal melodies, evoking decades of R&B without forswearing the blues. Good call. Sticky-sweet ballad "Our Love" and the ironically warm soul of "Cold Blooded" need little embellishment for maximum efficacy. Make no mistake: There's plenty of guitar action. Yet most of it sticks to riffs and fills, so slow-burn funk and an alluring falsetto can take the lead. Even when Clark lets his guitar step forward, as on the heavy funk of "Grinder" and the loud rock of "Stay," he shuns the fuzz-soaked tones of previous work for an icy, thrusting sound indebted to B.B. King and Albert Collins. Spare arrangements, mid-fi production, and strong singing give the songs an organic feel, letting the performances breathe. Musical aesthetic isn't the only facet that's opened up, either. When Clark strips bare to ask "Lord, I need your helping hand" on acoustic plea "Church," and sings "This music is our healing" on spiritual center "The Healing," there's no mistaking his conviction, nor his desire to move beyond solo-happy self-absorption. That's risky business after wowing guitar nerds, but one that pays off handsomely here. By sidestepping guitar herodom, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim stakes out territory Gary Clark Jr. can proudly call his own.


A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Gary Clark Jr.
Texas Platters
Gary Clark Jr.
This Land (Record Review)

Kahron Spearman, March 22, 2019

Texas Platters
Gary Clark Jr.
Live North America 2016 (Record Review)

Alejandra Ramirez, April 28, 2017

More Music Reviews
Texas Platters
Guy Forsyth & Jeska Bailey
Conspirators (Record Review)

Reid Jowers, Sept. 27, 2019

Texas Platters
The Texas Horns
Get Here Quick (Record Review)

Jay Trachtenberg, Sept. 20, 2019

More by Michael Toland
Alex Maas’ Captivating 13th Floor Lineup and More Crucial Concerts This Week
Alex Maas’ Captivating 13th Floor Lineup and More Crucial Concerts This Week
From sunn O))) to Carolyn Wonderland, Shelley King, Marcia Ball’s holiday show

Nov. 24, 2023

The Pharcyde and Brownout’s Special Fest Collaboration and More Crucial Concerts This Week
The Pharcyde and Brownout’s Special Fest Collaboration and More Crucial Concerts This Week
Find Nineties alt-hip-hop pioneers and Caroline Rose at two separate benefits

Nov. 10, 2023


Gary Clark Jr.

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle