Once you hit play, you’ll want to keep it turned up and hear what’s coming next; that’s to be expected. But one unexpected thing that might hit you as you soak up This Land – the powerful new studio album from blues/rock/soul/R&B icon Gary Clark Jr. – is the sudden urge to check that you’re still listening to the same record. Its fresh and genre-defying sound makes it clear for anyone previously unaware: Clark is not only a fiercely dynamic guitarist and singer, but a multi-talented songwriter who could top the charts in any era and nearly every category.
Even as it sinks into a groove all its own, there’s a distinct twist in This Land for almost every type of musical craving. Soul lover? You need “Feed the Babies” and “I Got My Eyes on You (Locked & Loaded).” Reggae fan? Check out “Feeling Like A Million” and “Highway 71.” Want the searing blues you know him for? “The Governor” and “Dirty Dishes Blues” all the way. Dig classic R&B? “When I’m Gone” is for you. Contemporary R&B? Hit play on “Don’t Wait Til Tomorrow.” Slick funk? Meet “The Guitar Man” and “Did Dat.” Funky pop? Try “I Walk Alone.” Guitar-powered rock? Don’t miss “What About Us” and “Low Down Rolling Stone.” Looking for a brass-laden anthem? Enjoy “Got to Get Up.” Oh wait, you’re only into punk? Try to listen to “Gotta Get Into Something” without banging your head. If you’re into just into effortlessly cool creativity, then you’re in for a treat from start to finish, because This Land is a kaleidoscope of shifting styles and well-built vibes.
It’s impressive how Gary Clark Jr. can find his niche in any realm – and once he’s got your attention with the music, he doesn’t waste a moment of it instilling the subject matter. Delivering his crucially important perspective throughout, he uses some songs to tackle issues head on, and others to demonstrate he doesn’t have to be boxed into any singular theme. Some of the heaviest messages, as it turns out, come from real life, like the unforgettable title track (“This Land”) that opens the record. Incredibly relevant – “Paranoid and pissed off, now that I got the money, fifty acres and a model A, right in the middle of Trump country…I see you looking out your window, can’t wait to call the police on me…” – it’s inspired by an infuriating instance of racism Clark experienced at his home outside of Austin, Texas.
Equally personal is “Pearl Cadillac,” which he penned for his parents and has been dedicating to his mom in live performances. “I remember when I left home in that pearl Cadillac, I was searching for some kind of way to pay you back, for your love, your love, your love…” Clark sings openly in his recognizable timbre. You realize how generous the 17-song record (including 2 killer bonus tracks) truly is when you absorb all the energy and care he pours into each piece of it. You sense that from listening, but Clark has also explained this precise approach. “I wanted every note and lyric to mean something,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “There was a lot of trial and error, a lot of experimentation.” Another exciting impulse, upon hearing This Land, is thinking about how rich and energetic these songs will be in a live setting. Combined with Gary Clark Jr.’s fiery stage presence and scream-coaxing guitar prowess, it’s easy to imagine a big crowd dancing hard at his feet, reacting to his solos and vocals with passion.
You can order This Land on vinyl here and find it digitally here. Follow Gary Clark Jr. on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter for updates about his current tour – and don’t miss him in NYC soon at The Beacon on March 21st (tickets available here).
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley