Bentley's Bandstand: Gary Clark Jr., Jamey Johnson, The Preservation Hall Jazz Band

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Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr., Blak and Blu. There are some musicians who are invaded by the blues at an early age. It's a sound that gets inside their soul and refuses to let go. It comes upon them in the middle of the night, at the end of a lonely afternoon and sometimes the moment they open their eyes from sleep. It is usually a feeling that lands without choice, and no matter whether it's wanted or not, the blues will have its way. Gary Clark Jr. got that visitation when he was young, and quickly found a guitar to help him find out a way through it. That guitar became his life in his teenaged bedroom, and before long the songs he wrote were his new best friends.

Flash forward a decade or so and Clark's discovery by other musicians became a secret that spread like wildfire among music lovers of all ages and persuasions. The man had taken his blues and twisted them into a new and explosive knot, adding rock, hip-hop and even shades of doo wop to an expanding style which knew no bounds. He refused to be boxed in by anyone else's definition of what he could do. Gary Clark Jr. found his freedom and, thankfully, flew his freak flag high. On this new album, producers Mike Elizondo and Rob Cavallo have opened the door to the music cabinet and let the musician have his way with whatever he found inside. From raving guitar explosions like "When My Train Pulls In" to rock and roll-fueled ravers like "Travis County," Clark floors it every chance he gets. Even when he turns inward on "The Life" and "Blak and Blu," there is a smoldering essence which always threatens to break out.

The only question is how some will try to describe him. The new Jimi Hendrix? Nope. The next Stevie Ray Vaughan? Never. How about the first Gary Clark Jr.? That is more than enough to be known as, and if his new album is any indication, the rainbow in the sky is the limit for this incredibly talented young Texan. His approach to music, whether the blues of Austin's alleys or the rolling hills of Hunt, is a wonder to behold. As Clark steps on the stage of the world, watch his eyes and hands. He is giving us gifts that don't come very often. And remember this—there is nothing junior about Gary Clark. He's all grown up and has many, many places to go.

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Jamey Johnson, Living for a Song: A Tribute to Hank Cochran. Certain songwriters captured life in all its infinite complexity that they may have well have been bar stool shrinks. They found the trickery of love to be an endless source of inspiration, and would also wander into the despair of tragedy and the joy of togetherness just to keep their chops up. No one did this better than songwriter Hank Cochran. That he landed nearly 30 Top 10 hits spread over four decades shows that sometimes the public is able to hear such greatness and be mightily moved by those truths.

Country singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson knows his way around a great song. He's written some himself, and has always been quick to acknowledge those who helped get him there. No one meant more to Johnson than Hank Cochran, and for this moving tribute he's enlisted everyone from Merle Haggard to Elvis Costello to take on classics like "I Fall to Pieces," "Don't Touch Me," "Make the World Go Away" and so many others. It's a love-fest from start to finish, with each singer digging deep into their own hearts to find a way to honor the huge range of Hank Cochran's songs.

Listening back-to-back to artists like Alison Krauss, Ray Price, Emmylou Harris, Kris Kristofferson, Willie Nelson and George Strait, and that's just for starters, is to be overtaken by the true sweep of country music. In a way, that style lives in a world of its own, revered by those who love it but in so many ways ignored by those who don't. What albums like this do is spread the news to the outside that, note for note and word for word, these people have captured what life in America is all about. It's living, loving, losing and lasting, but most of all, never giving up. Hank Cochran was a walking testament to all those things, and now his musical friends have gathered together to spread his greatness. Luckily, Cochran gets the last word here: "I came to town a long time ago and it's really been good to me as you all know / but all of us rhyme runners and word hunters have some things that we've been through / so I wrote this song hoping I could tell some of it to you." Jamey Johnson has done Hank Cochran—and himself—proud.

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The Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The Preservation Hall 50th Anniversary Collection. On a narrow street in New Orleans' French Quarter, St. Peter to be exact, sits Preservation Hall. It's a small room entered down an old hall where most of the listeners can almost reach out and touch the band. The lights are dim and the sound low, creating an aura of intensity that seems to be absorbed by the world-wide travelers who find their way to that shrine of jazz. Opened by Allan Jaffe in 1962, Preservation Hall took up the banner of early New Orleans music that was in danger of extinction. It needed a few years to find an audience, but today remains one of the real wonders of the music world. Though all the older musicians have passed on, in the Crescent City it's a true fact of life that music is timeless and those coming up are put on this earth to carry on their elders' creations. Jazz lives forever there.

This four-disc collection from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band leaves the listener breathless. The way it time-jumps from early recordings on Atlantic Records by Billie Pierce, Papa John Joseph, DeDe Pierce and George Lewis give light to what those originators sounded like, and lets newer collaborations between the Preservation Hall musicians and the Del McCoury Band show there really are no boundaries between sounds. It is all one bubbling gumbo that simply doesn't allow discrimination of any kind.

If there is a single box set that illustrates the undiminished sweep of jazz, this is it. In the backstreets of the red-light district in New Orleans could arguably be the spot where improvised music first took hold in America at the start of the 1900s. From there, players began spreading across the country and taking their sound with them. But in New Orleans, those who stayed founded a new way of talking and listening, taking instruments like clarinets, snare drums, tubas, trumpets and banjos into the streets and tiny clubs scattered around the town. As it looked like those unbelievable achievements were disappearing, Preservation Hall gave them a home to survive, earning its name as the landmark for the past and the future. It's here in all its proud glory to hear forever.

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Bill Bentley got his first drum set in 1965 and still has it. He's been a deejay, record store clerk, publicist, writer, concert promoter, record producer and a&r director, sometimes all at once. He's worked at KUT-FM, Austin City Limits, L.A. Weekly, Slash Records, Warner Bros. Records and Vanguard…

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