Gary Clark Jr. delivers a scorching rendition of the aching, uplifting “The Healing,” live at Austin’s Arlyn Studios in the first video from the guitarist’s new album, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, out Friday.
Despite the intimate, candle-lit setting, Clark Jr. and his band are loud and powerful. Clark Jr. unleashes dirt-caked fretboard flourishes in between the simple, sustaining strums of his rhythm guitarist, Eric Zapata, and over the hypnotic shuffle of Johnny Radelat’s drums. The vocals are warm and soulful, with gorgeous backing harmonies fluttering around Clark Jr.’s earnest lyrics, “When this world upsets me, this music sets me free.”
“[Arlyn] is a distinctive Austin studio with a great sound and great people,” Clark Jr. tells Rolling Stone. “It used to be the old Austin Opera House where Willie Nelson played during the Seventies.”
“The Healing” opens The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark Jr.’s second major label LP, and follow-up to his 2012 breakout, Blak and Blu. While that record was primarily recorded in Los Angeles, the Austin native set up shop in his hometown at Arlyn Studios for Sonny Boy Slim.
For the singer-guitarist, recording in his hometown played an important role in the creation of Sonny Boy Slim. “Making the record in Austin was special because I was back home,” he says. “My sisters came and sang on tracks. I was able to really settle in and produce this album with focus by being in one place the whole time. Blak and Blu was done in different settings while I was in Los Angeles. Those collaborations were great, but this was just something different yet feeling familiar.”
The convenience of staying home also afforded Clark Jr. the chance to let his songs marinate and develop. “I found that I can’t write on the road,” he told Rolling Stone over the summer. “That doesn’t work for me.” When he began recording Sonny Boy Slim, he added, “I basically came in here with the bare minimum. First two weeks, I just banged around, sat on the drums, played bass.”
Along with the release of Sonny Boy Slim, Clark Jr. kicks off a North American trek opening for the Foo Fighters tonight, September 11th, in Vancouver. He has a few solo dates scheduled for the coming months as well — including sets at Austin City Limits Music Festival — but a headlining North American trek officially begins next February.
“On ‘The Healing’ track, I played a lot of the instruments myself and got very immersed in the track,” Clark Jr. says. “Live, I get to hear it all back performed with the energy of live musicians and we can take it further if we want.”