GARY CLARK JR. - Live, North America 2016 (2017)
More than most musicians working in the 21st century, Gary Clark, Jr. is dedicated to the live album. He released Live two years after his 2012 major-label debut, Blak and Blu, and Live North America 2016 arrives on a similar schedule, appearing in 2017 after the release of 2015's The Story of Sonny Boy Slim. Clark worked his second major-label album throughout 2016, so it's little surprise that a good chunk of that record appears here, along with a few choice selections from his debut. To this set list, Clark throws in covers of Jimmy Reed's "Honest I Do" and Elmore James' "My Baby's Gone." Clark nails Reed's laconic delivery and James' hypercharged slide guitar, proof of his versatility and taste, since he doesn't use either as vehicles for his virtuosity. He saves such pyrotechnics for his own work, but that's not even the key to why Live North America 2016 works as well as it does. The album succeeds because Gary Clark, Jr. knows that blues needs songs, feel, and groove in addition to solos. Indeed, the striking thing about the album is its vibe: he may be playing to large audiences, but the record feels warm and intimate, sliding into soul grooves as often as it gets gritty. In many ways, it feels richer than his studio albums, which rely on pushing his contemporary flair to the forefront. Live North America 2016 is all about the basics and that's why it works as well as it does.
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