AU ABROAD

Album Review: Gary Clark Jr. - The Story of Sonny Boy Slim (2015 LP)

It often takes a few listens to get into a song, but there’s no denying the sweet moment of that feeling like you've heard a new song before. Gary Clark Jr. oozes familiar, old-school sentimentality among creative production, and his latest record The Story of Sonny Boy Slim will delight most and move many.

Even the title itself beckons for a nostalgic flashback to the music of the mid 1900s, inviting us into a sonic storytelling that’s been missing (at least in the traditional sense) from a lot of the music since. Of course, there will be links to other artists when we read about Gary Clark Jr. – his sound clearly has a history to it. First track ‘The Healing’ sets the mood of the record with a gospel hymn sample “I’m On The Battlefield for My Lord” into twangy electric guitar, reminiscent of the Django Soundtrack.

Despite the vintage feel of the record, Gary’s voice brings a youthful energy, which lets us know we’re listening to freshly created lyrics. ‘Our Love’ is a charming ballad, not so much about a love complete but something in the process of becoming something life changing. ‘Church’ is a healing anthem, and a standout on the album. As he croons, it becomes a spiritual experience separate from religion. The Story of Sonny Boy Slim sounds like the story of all humans on the cusp of vulnerability, feeling very alone, and then reaching out to others despite the risk.

Gary Clark Jr. has acknowledged in interviews that his Blues sound has its roots in USA pre-Civil Rights, when artists sang of their oppression. However, his blues vocals aren't so much an imitation but rather a vehicle for the hazy autobiographical-via-imaginative narrative he develops song by song.

Ultimately, the record is an ode to music. Gary Clark Jr states it outright in the first track: “when this world upsets me/this music sets me free.” He takes us through the power of song as a vessel of doubts (“Hold On”), a psychedelic loop of thoughts and feelings (“Wings”) and an invitation to dance away cares (“Can’t Sleep”). His voice is an instrument in itself, ranging from a hip-hop inflected spoken style to a fragile falsetto exuding suffering. And classic guitar fans will enjoy his screaming solos cutting through the melodies.

The Austin Bluesman is playing Falls Festival in Australia over the summer and it will sure be a memorable set, watching Sonny Boy Slim come to life. He has performed previously down under at Bluesfest, but something tells me this record signals an expansion of his fan base from serious blues fans to all music fans. Who would have thought the harmonica had made a comeback?

Review Score: 9.0 out of 10

Sonny Boy Slim is out now.