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The Guitarist Of The Year: 9. Gary Clark Jr.

The only artist on our countdown who didn’t release a studio album in 2014, Gary Clark Jr. wowed live and in person.

Wednesday, 24. December 2014  -  by  David Hayter
Gary Clark Jr.
Photo credit Frank Maddocks

2012’s Blak and Blu, the most hotly anticipated album of Gary Clark Jr’s career to date, proved confounding. It lived up to the hype, not by fulfilling Gary’s longstanding potential, but by further demonstrating just how great the bluesman could be - if the stars were to align. He’s a wild man, a rock god, a smoothie, a pop star, an RnB loverman and a weathered old soul in a heartthrob’s body - and yet he’s not quite any of these things. He threatens, he suggests, but he doesn’t quite master.

It would be natural to assume that the next evolutionary step would take place when Gary returned to the studio, but, in 2014, a little known secret got out: Gary Clark Jr. was already the finished article. As his fame grew Gary started to pop up on late night TV, major award shows and even the NBA All Star Game, where he balanced the largest unseen audiences of his career on the tip of his six string. By the time the festival season ground into gear and Gary’s tour came to town, he was ready to blow the competition away.

His guitar was now free to wrench and juke seductively. The wildness that never quite came across on record ushered forth live: slicing, stabbing and mauling festival fields into submission. The studio polish that neutered rather than enhanced his vocal was replaced by a coarse, gruffness that stripped him of smooth veneer, but restored his soul. Something about the open air allowed his music to stew and linger, as if each note was painstakingly picking its spot to inflict maximum misery.

Those who missed the tour were treated to Gary Clark Jr. Live, by far and away the best album of the bluesman’s career and the truest representation of his formidable and pleasing unpolished talents to date.

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