This Land is the best work to date from Gary Clark Jr., gathering together the elements that have worked so well for the artist before, but also moving in bold new directions.
While previous outings have demonstrated great prowess with a guitar and his song-crafting abilities, they always felt a little tethered to the blues legacy of his forebears.
The blues aesthetic remains, with excellent guitar work all over the record, but This Land draws in a seamless mix of synth, sampling, hip-hop, funk and reggae. And it really works, with stylings old and new yielding something that feels both critical and contemporary.
Clark’s capacity to change gears really makes this record: the urgency of the title track, the pacy 70s riff-rock of ‘Gotta Get Into Something’, the heartfelt slow burn of ‘Pearl Caddilac’, the easy groove of ‘When I’m Gone’ and the hook laden ‘Guitar Man’– it’s quite a collection.
The songs also effectively straddle the personal and political. We open with the righteous anger of the title track (a perfect example of Clark’s genre bending that starts out in uncharacteristic Kendrick Lamar mode), taking direct aim at the racist heart of making America great again. But there is just as much confessional song-writing going on through the album, making for good balance.
On This Land, Clark is an artist who completely embraces both past and present. It is fitting that after all this stylistic blending, the album proper concludes with some very old school material in ‘Dirty Dishes Blues’. This is an artist who will forge forward but always embraces where he has come from.
At 15 tracks and two bonus numbers, the album could benefit from a trim to make this a leaner beast with even greater impact. Nevertheless, this is a great record and a real statement form an artist who has really found his niche.
Gary Clark Jr tours Australia for this year’s Bluesfest and will perform in Adelaide on 25 April at Thebarton Theatre, with tickets and details available here. This Land is out now from Warner Bros Records.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor