By Al Kaufman
In Austin, Texas, blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan is God. His likeness overlooks the heraled Barton Creek, defending it against the evils of cheap pop music. Gary Clark Jr, who grew up in Austin, often hears his name bandied about in the same sentence as the late great Stevie Ray, and two of the people doing the talking are Stevies’ big brother, Jimmie Vaughan, and a little guy who goes by the name Eric Clapton. That’s how good Gary Clark Jr. is.
Clark has a full-length CD coming out in the spring. For now we must make do with this four-song EP. The first two cuts, “Bright Lights” and “Don’t Owe You a Thang,” are studio cuts; “Bright Lights” with a creepy carnival feel and “Thang” a Southern blues romp. The second half, “Things Are Changin'” and “When My Train Pulls In,” are live, solo acoustic cuts. Clark displays his finger-picking prowess on the former and his ability to all out jam on the latter. He has solos that are equal part Jimi Hendrix and folk-rock guitarist god Richard Thompson. It’s an overall amazing display. The one flaw that the live numbers bring out is Clark’s voice, which is simply not meaty enough to keep pace with his guitar. It’s a nice enough voice, downright sweet and sensitive on “Things Are Changin’,” but a deeper growl would be downright perfect. He comes close on “Bright Lights,” but ends up feeling like a wine that has been aged too quickly. Yet for a 27-year-old, a baby by blues standards, Clark has plenty of time to form that grizzly, guttural sound, or at least a richer timber. In the meantime, his guitar does plenty enough talking to satisfy.
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- CD Review: Gary Clark Jr. — The Bright Lights EP | December 21, 2011