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Gary Clark Jr. Wows Intimate Crowd at KCRW

The chugging opening riff to Gary Clark Jr’s “When My Train Pulls In” carries the emotional force of a runaway locomotive, barreling into collective chests of any live audience lucky enough to feel its might.

When Clark tacked on a few bars to that opening for a small crowd gathered inside Apogee’s Berkeley Street Studio in Santa Monica this week, it was obvious that the Austin-based musician was feeling strong as ever.

Appearing on another edition of KCRW’s Berkeley Street Sessions, Clark ran through an eight-song set that drew mainly from his excellent recent release, Blak and Blu.  He also sat for an interview with KCRW DJ Anne Litt.

Clark commands the guitar with a veteran presence that belies his 28 years of age, recalling the great bluesmen from Texas to Chicago and all points in between.

Clark’s voice also impressed, as a track like “Bright Lights” called for heartfelt blues while “Things Are Changin’” and “You Saved Me” were R&B crooners.

His vocal range made sense when Clark explained that he started singing in the choir before he first picked up an axe.  Clark also told a funny anecdote about wanting to become the next Boyz II Men with two childhood friends, but instead he began making his way to Austin clubs with his guitar by the time he was 14.

Although the show was relatively short, there were several more highlights.

On “Third Stone From the Sun/If You Love Me Like You Say,” Clark gnarled his strings to produce a sound that could have been mistaken for a turntable before launching into a powerful extended jam.  And he had the temerity to close with “If Trouble was Money,” a cover of the late, great Albert Collins.

Taking on a Collins tune could be a daunting task for many, but Clark showed that his chops are certainly up to snuff.

For Clark, age is only a number, especially with a guitar in his hands.

Note: The session, engineered by the legendary Bob Clearmountain, will be airing on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic on Dec. 4.

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