This Land

Gary Clark Jr.

Warner Brothers, 2019

REVIEW BY: Daniel Camp


Since bursting onto the national stage with 2012’s Blak And Blu, Gary Clark Jr. has lived a pretty charmed life. Critics have been kind, sales have been good, and he’s managed to cultivate a reputation for himself as the future of blues music and one of the best guitarists in America. Amidst all the acclaim, only two complaints have cut through the praise: 1) his songwriting is heavy on style and light on substance, and 2) in stretching himself musically, he has abandoned his roots as a blues guitarist.

In This Land, Clark silences those critics with a passionate, powerful album that glides across genres just as Blak And Blu and 2015’s The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim did, but with an edge and a confidence that those albums, excellent in their own rights, lacked.

You can’t talk about This Land without talking about the opener and title track, the best protest song I’ve heard since Green Day’s “American Idiot.” Coming at the listener from a position of success, Clark angrily sings about how, despite his money and fame, he can feel the suspicious eyes of his white neighbors, the same people who in another time wouldn’t have hesitated to cry out to him, “Nigga run, nigga run / go back where you come from.” Barely concealing his rage, both with his voice and a wailing, Hendrix-ian guitar riff, Clark’s answer is unequivocal: “Fuck you, I’m America’s son / This is where I come from / This land is mine.” By borrowing from Woody Guthrie’s oft-misunderstood anthem, Clark reclaims it as the protest song it was always intended to be and delivers a rebuke every listene – especially every white listener – ought to hear.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Clark’s anger subsides after this introduction, but his social consciousness prevails with the bluesier “What About Us.” Told from his perspective as a young success story, Clark ironically gives voice to those he and his ilk are displacing, with the chorus ultimately showing that “what about us?” has somehow become the refrain of the young, old, black, and white in 2019. “Feed The Babies” is a similarly activist hymn, the kind of soulful jam that would fit right in on Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On (Clark’s falsetto helps in that respect.)

Of course, the whole album isn’t a rundown of current events and controversial issues. “Gotta Get Into Something” is a barroom rocker, a guaranteed crowd-pleaser at any concert. Similarly, “Feelin’ Like A Million” is the sort of guitar-infused jam destined to go over great at any show, even trafficking in reggae to keep things interesting.

That sort of genre-bending was a hallmark of Clark’s previous two albums, and it continues in This Land, with jazz, R&B, and soul influences permeating the album. However, this release never forgets Clark’s roots – in a gesture that was surely intentional, every song on the album comes with a guitar solo. For those who have heard of Clark’s Hendrix-meets-Stevie-Ray mastery of the instrument but were disappointed by his studio offerings, this album is where you finally get to see him work in the way live audiences have been raving about for years.

That nod to his roots is best seen with two blues offerings tacked on at the end of the album. “The Governor” serves as a sort of companion piece to “This Land,” an acoustic country-blues song that veils its threats to Clark’s enemies in the familiar twang of his guitar. And closer “Dirty Dishes Blues” is pure Delta blues, the sort of song that Robert Johnson might have written had he lived long enough to get his hands around an electric guitar.

Gary Clark Jr. has reached the point of his career where the sky’s the limit, and with this album, his lyrics risk alienation even as his music seeks to reassure the fans from way back that he hasn’t lost his soul. If not the burst of originality that its predecessor was, This Land is nevertheless a significant, powerful next chapter in Clark’s career.

Rating: A-

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