Gary Clark Jr

Live / North America 2016

In the vinyl-centric days of generations past, the art of the live album was one hailed in particular breadth. Absent was the faculty to binge on iPhone bootlegs or gaudy spectacles on Blu-Ray – rarely did a showcase ever leave the stage, and when it did, its hefty black wax issue was oft revered more than whatever studio offerings fostered it.

It’s with this earnest love for such nostalgia that Gary Clark Jr. captures the raw spirit of live soul and blues in his second concert album, Live / North America 2016. Though culled from recordings of shows played in front of tens of thousands of fans, its back- to-basics compositions washed over with cheers and the gentle atmospherics of the stage impart a warming sense of intimacy. Guitar solos are as searing hot as they are abundant (very), but equally poignant are the roaring choruses, hazy bridges and snappy jam sections that wrap them.

The tracklist/setlist is mostly pulled from Jr’s 2015 album, The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim, and in a soundscape unmarred by overdubs or clean production, those cuts soar with every scratchy riff and smoky twang. Jr’s versatility also shines through in the album’s two penultimate covers, “Honest I Do” (Jimmy Reed) and “My Baby’s Gone” (Elmore James), which play a passionate tribute to the blues greats of the past before bleeding into the towering, smoky beast that is “Numb”. And with a runtime just shy of 75 minutes, it’s hard not to feel perfectly sated by the end of it all. 

Matt Doria