I discovered Gary Clark Jr. on an episode of Guitar Center Sessions on TV one day. It featured this version of “Bright Lights,” and I was drawn to the raw energy of his brand of gritty blues rock. It helps that he can play guitar with the best of them. I found his 2012 album Black & Blu and was struck by the variety of songs. His sound revolves around guitar blues, upbeat blues, horn sections, roots rock, and modern R & B. It featured some excellent songs, such as “Bright Lights,” “When My Train Pulls In,” and “Aint Messin’ Around,” among others, but as a whole the album seemed a disjointed collection, jumping in out of genres.

Fast forward to September of 2015, and Gary Clark Jr.’s The Story of Sonny Boy Slim has been released to much anticipation. At first listen, the songs flow much better together. The different facets of his sound are still there, but songs compliment each other well. To my slight disappointment, none of the songs stuck out to me like “Bright Lights” did from his previous work. However, after a few listens, many of the songs have grown on me. There is a deeper theme to these songs that lays a little below the surface, showing maturity in the songwriting.

My favorite track on Sonny Boy was a surprise—the acoustic flavored “Church.” The song sounds unique on the album with its acoustic guitar and harmonica. The vocals are delivered with much feeling and soul. This song’s style jumps out at me as fertile ground that GCJ should continue to explore. As a fan, I want more! The track immediately following is “Hold On,” which declares over a to the listener “Hold on/We’re gonna make it,” over a syncopated grove. This song highlights the evolution Gary Clark Jr. has made in his songwriting, combining elements that would have probably ended up in different songs on his previous album.

Other songs are good, but they don’t seem to reach the soaring heights in the way a few of his older songs did. “Grinder,” and “Stay,” come close to those places, but end up elsewhere. Perhaps, better production and the desire to keep the sound consistent across the album had the effect of watering down the grit and rawness that would have been there a few years ago.03

The songs on Sonny Boy, like many from the Roots Rock category, would translate well in the live setting. I would go out of my way to catch Gary Clark Jr. in concert as his songwriting and guitar skills are helping push blues rock in new directions while still giving a nod to the older styles which got us to this point.

Sonny Boy also features many R & B numbers. The R & B songs, such as “Star,” “Our Love,” and the closer “Down to Ride,” feature the softer side of Gary Clark Jr.’s musicality. They may not be my favorite songs from him, but I believe they compliment the other songs well. The faults I find here are nit-picky, but I feel his frequent falsetto singing makes some of the songs sound too similar, and the keyboard synth sounds in “Down to Ride,” were peculiar choices. However, these aren’t enough to spoil the whole show.

Gary Clark Jr. delivers a solid and cohesive album that is very listenable front-to-back, even if we rarely listen to music that way anymore. The songs are as diverse as they have been in the past, but more consistent as a whole. The brashness found previously has been turned into more of a focus. The Story of Sonny Boy Slim is a solid effort which showcases the next chapter for Gary Clark Jr. While he doesn’t quite reach the level of greatness here, he proves he has the capacity to do great things within the Roots Rock genre.

The Story of Sonny Boy Slim
Gary Clark Jr.
Warner Brothers
September 11, 2015

Overall Score
78 %

Gary Clark Jr. delivers a focused, solid collection of rock, blues, and R & B songs with enough musical surprises to keep you coming back for more.

Songwriting 80%
Vocals 75%
Production 75%
Guitar Riffs 80%

About The Author

I am a musician. I play saxophone and drums. I am also a hardworking, craft-beer drinking, meat-eating, football watching, disc golf playing, hard-cider making family man. When I was little, I wanted to be an ice-cream truck driver, but now I do import documentation for a large retailer. The dream still lives!

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