Blak and Blu
Warner Bros.

When proud Austinites tell you that no bluesman has faced the fame and anticipation that hometown hero Gary Clark Jr. is facing since Stevie Ray Vaughan, it’s the honest truth. So when the horn-blowing jump-machine “Ain’t Messin ’Round” opens up Blak and Blu, Clark’s full-length major-label debut, fans of the young guitarist’s signature raw blues may find irony in the title. But that doesn’t mean the Blu is gone: a cleaned-up “Bright Lights” (a song first featured on Clark’s buzz-stoking 2011 EP), a harrowing, 10-minute “When My Train Pulls In,” and new-comer “Numb” each showcase the maddest guitar sound since the devil used to hang out at the crossroads. But the real surprise here is Clark’s deft blend of R&B and pop throughout the album. It’s a risky move on Clark’s part, but as true to the melting pot of sound heard on Austin’s streets as his blues are true to his Antone’s roots. And with Mike Elizondo (Fiona Apple, Dr. Dre) and Rob Cavallo (Green Day, Goo Goo Dolls) co-producing, songs like “The Life” (a personal jigsaw tale that is catchy as hell), “Glitter Ain’t Gold (Jumpin’ for Nothin’)” (produced as though to drown out Clark entirely), and the powerhouse title track just seem to fall into place. About the only thing that doesn’t — at least in this context — is the stomping closer, “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” which, while electrifying the ghost of Mississippi Delta’s past, still seems too real or too crude to affiliate with Black and Blu. A more appropriate closer would have been the Jimi Hendrix and Little Johnny Taylor cross-breed “Third Stone from the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say,” which somehow draws everything back together into a sound that is both articulate and nasty, like wings being sheared from the spine — a sound that can only be described as Gary Clark Jr. — LITTLE WALTER

LSM-GetItNow-large copy