Gary Clark Jr., "The Story of Sonny Boy Slim" (Warner Bros.)

Gary Clark Jr. makes a promise on his second studio album: "Hold on, we're gonna make it," he sings like a Southern-soul crier. The lyrics unspool in a rhythmic patter, referring to bitter losses, "the whole world gone crazy." But the track ignites only during his guitar solo, which starts in the background and soon fills the frame. If this calls to mind the biblical parable about hiding one's light under a bushel, it also underscores a familiar conundrum for Clark. At 31, he's probably the most acclaimed bluesman of his generation. Last year, he released "Gary Clark Jr. Live," a double album that confirmed the obvious: He's at his best in the heat and clamor of performance. But despite the implications of the title, his new album has no concept, serving up a mixed menu of styles, including boom-bap swagger, rustic gospel and 1980s party-funk. At times it can feel as if he had set out to make a Lenny Kravitz record. Clark is smart to resist typecasting as a blues revivalist and to approach the studio as a platform distinct from the stage. Still, the standout tracks here are those that echo his live act.

NATE CHINEN, New York Times