On his 2012 major-label debut, Blak and Blu, ascendant Austin guitar god Gary Clark Jr. went into overdrive (long solos, a Hendrix cover, countless genre hops) to prove himself a roots-minded bluesman for the hip-hop generation. On his follow-up, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark handles most of the instrumentation and production himself, and sounds more relaxed musically, even when the subject matter offers a different angle.
On the gritty “Grinder,” his guitar cries like the cash-strapped narrator’s hungry baby, while the acoustic gospel number “Church” centers on a guy for whom “unwind” means unravel. Clark eases the tension with the uplifting funk-soul throwback “Hold On,” the reassuring psychedelic ballad “Star” and the brassy “BYOB” — a baller’s minute of bliss before the hangover. The album’s two liveliest cuts, the disco-ready “Can’t Sleep” and rattling Delta rocker “Shake,” couldn’t be more different, but The Story of Sonny Boy Slim overall shows Clark at his most concise and cohesive.