Bluesman goes above and beyond
Gary Clark Jr. has spent over ten years developing an identity as one of the most talented blues artists of the modern era. He’s been headlining blues festivals and making on-stage appearances with industry royalty like The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and Foo Fighters. Former President Obama was a huge fan, inviting him to perform at the White House twice. But Clark’s previous two studio albums struggled commercially, and the singer was at a creative wall, so he chose to completely start over and record the entire new record himself. And the result, This Land, is anything but what his previous identity was.
One of the themes that consistently appear in This Land is race. Being black and growing up in Texas, Clark was subjected to all kinds of racism from his peers. But after working hard and earning enough money to buy a 50-acre farm for his family, Clark was still subjected to similar prejudice in the form of a disrespectful neighbor who refused to believe a black man was the actual owner of the property. That racism, plus the open vitriol spewed by President Trump, led Clark to make race and politics a central theme of his new music. The album’s title track, in fact, is about that exact incident.
Clark succeeds at his biggest musical goal: to diversify his sound. ‘This Land” is an eerie blues/R & B/rock/hip-hop hybrid with a foot-stomping beat and synth bass behind Clark’s signature guitar fills, laced with biting lyrics describing the hate he’s experienced. There are many other standouts, which include the soulful Sam Smith falsetto on “I Walk Alone,” the cheeky reggae vibes of “Feelin’ Like A Million,” the freaky gangster rap and horn mishmash of “Got To Get Up” and the fun, finger-picking closer, “Dirty Dishes Blues,” which shows as an homage to his past. The money jam, though, is the title track, and as good as all the other songs are, they don’t touch it.
Ultimately, Clark has succeeded in making the best album of his career, one that’s sure to catapult him out of the blues realm and into mainstream ears where he belongs.