For the past two years, Texas guitarist Gary Clark Jr. has been burnishing his national image with festival appearances and an EP that hinted at greatness. Blak and Blu pays off; it’s not a perfect album, but it is bold and exciting. Clark uses rocking blues as a base from which to explore R&B, soul, funk, and hip-hop. This merger of talent and craft begins with “Ain’t Messin’ Around,” which uses explosive guitar work, glistening vocals, and a horn-and-organ decorated arrangement to back the claim “Ain’t nobody else like me around.” Clark sounds best when digging into blues pieces, especially “When My Train Pulls In,” which he transforms from the pensive Bright Lights EP version into a gospel-shaded cathartic release. Clark doesn’t sacrifice guitar heroics as he maneuvers the modern R&B contours of the title track and “You Saved Me.” Style trumps substance a few times — the hip-hop lament “The Life” and retro-R&B “Please Come Home” — but that’s a small price for this adventure. — Boston Globe
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