Texas guitar legend Gary Clark Jr. has rocked the charts this week with the release of his third full-length album, This Land: a politically-charged masterpiece, encompassing virtually all genres of music as a mosaic does with small pieces of glass. Woven into the tapestry of This Land is GCJR’s signature blues sound among reggae elements, folk, acid rock, jazz, RnB and – dare we say it – even gangster rap. It might seem like Gary Clark Jr. has flown off the rails, but it’s quite the contrary; he is getting more in tune with himself, one track at a time. Following the initial success of 2011’s Blak And Blu and 2015’s smashing Story of Sonny Boy Slim, this two-time GRAMMY-winner and all-out guitar shredder has hardly reached his peak.
‘This Land’ is unapologetic. Period.
This Land is unapologetic. Period. Whether GCJR speaks out on the crumbling status of this nation or his (seemingly unsteady) personal life, he does so with such striking stamina and force that it’s simply unequivocal. Gary Clark Jr. is to be taken seriously. Like a dark horse riding in the night in search of wrongdoing, the album begins with the title track and Gary Clark Jr. taking the reigns on racism. He’s “paranoid and pissed off” after years of witnessing brother turn on brother and the American public fall victim to misinformation, hate and greed. Instead of insisting on a call to action from his listeners, GCJR takes action himself. “F*ck you, I’m America’s son,” asserts GCJR, “…this is where I come from.” Pairing such stabbing social commentary to the 1940 patriotic anthem “This Land Is Your Land” (originally by American folk singer Woody Guthrie), GCJR implies that the song we learned as kids, one that overtly ingrained the principles of this fine nation in us, has long been forgotten. The distorted bass and wailing guitar throughout the track disoreint the listener; an audible anecdote on just how far down the rabbit hole we’ve fallen. Track two, “What About Us”, furthers this “there goes the neighborhood” vibe, with Gary Clark Jr. declaring that this vicious cycle won’t end until we let it. “Call it what you want,” says GCJR… no one is bettering our circumstances, yet everyone has something to say about it.
Although the first two songs come with guns (and guitars) blazing, Gary Clark Jr. still likes to showcase his softer side. Tracks like “Pearl Cadillac”, “When I’m Gone” and “Guitar Man” all feature GCJR taking it down a notch to serenade the women in his life and their invaluable contributions thus far. “When I’m Gone” actually evokes a Motown-meets-modern essence, a track about returning home to your loved ones after extended time away. But, Gary Clark Jr. loves the road… specifically, the solo road. “I Walk Alone” illustrates his ‘lone wolf’ status best, stating he’d rather cast aside a lover than let her fumble around in his darkness. “It’s not your fault!” He exclaims soprano style, yet GCJR does have a point. Isn’t being alone better than being misleading? Or worse, being absolutely miserable? Pleasantries have flown the coop in the public realm long ago, so might as well eradicate them in the private sector while we’re at it.
And, just when you thought Gary Clark Jr. couldn’t pull more tricks out of his sleeve, he goes reggae. Songs like “Feeling Like A Million” and “Highway 71” elicit a traditional reggae beat, a bubble organ and more psychedelic reverb than a Marley can muster. The latter track is straight up dubby! After an evolved, twisting album journey, Gary Clark Jr. ends with his familiar blues guitar in “Dirty Dishes Blues”. The end track, yes, but it’s more than that; it’s a metaphor bridging the gap from Gary Clark Jr. at the start of his career to where his head’s at now. To be honest, all the songs reflect personal growth in one way or another, exemplified visually as a blurry figure standing with guitar in hand on the album artwork. Caught in the limelight of fame, yet preferring the shadows, Gary Clark Jr.’s enigmatic existence finds a balance in This Land. Perhaps it’s time we all become so transparent.
Purchase or stream This Land album:
- This Land
- What About Us
- I Got My Eyes On You
- I Walk Alone
- Feeling Like A Million
- Gotta Get Into Something
- Got To Get Up
- Feed The Babies
- Pearl Cadillac
- When I’m Gone
- Guitar Man
- Low Down Rolling Stone
- The Governor
- Don’t Wait Til Tomorrow
- Highway 71
- Dirty Dishes Blues
Gary Clark Jr. New Music and Tour Trailor:
Disclaimer: All views presented in this album review are those of the reviewer and not necessarily those of Top Shelf Music.