Gary Clark Jr.'s versatility is both blessing and curse. The Austin ace's 2012 breakthrough album, Blak and Blu, shuffle-mixed through blues roots; raw, Hendrix-channeling solos; glossy, modern R&B; and points between, but never quite figured out how to connect the dots. Three years later, his studio follow-up does — mainly by focusing on his unfuckwithable guitar. Clark carves out a Prince-ly room of his own with wah-wah-washed acid rock ("Grinder") and ping-ponging, Bootsy-tinted funk ("Star"). There's also the rap-cadence soul of "Hold On," with echoes of Marvin Gaye and Kanye West; the deep groove of "Wings," a slinky duet with Austin singer Tameca Jones; and "Church," a stripped-down folk meditation à la Taj Mahal that unpacks the drama behind one man's prayers. The playing never stumbles, though the writing occasionally does: Murder-ballad tradition and sexy falsetto notwithstanding, the woman-in-the-crosshairs image in "Cold Blooded" seems questionable in a nation toxic with domestic violence. "This music is my healing," Clark passionately declares on the album's opening salvo, "The Healing." In the reprise, he sings that line again, changing "my" to "our." And for the most part, he's right.
Your host this week is pieter Pastoor