Published Feb 27, 2019Gary Clark Jr.'s new album lives up to the furious energy of his live shows, dragging a notoriously traditionalist genre into the new millennium. As Clark continues to alternate between studio and live albums, he strikes a balance on This Land that brings the 35-year-old Texan to new heights. Clark pulls no punches and wastes no notes across the album's 15 tracks, delving the most serious songwriting of his career.
Race isn't often tackled in the songs of modern guitar-slinging bluesmen, but on the explosive title track, Clark faces anti-black racism head on, as he sings: "In the middle of Trump country." The chorus of "N—a run, n—a run, go back where you come from" is met defiantly by Clark, who responds with "Fuck you, I'm America's son," staking his claim with a backing of ripping fuzz tones. It's a visceral anthem that feels genuine through its entire six-minute runtime.
On "Gotta Get Into Something" Clark is channelling the garage intensity of the Stooges with muted power chords and a hint of Rick Flair on the chants of "wooooo!" through the chorus, and on "Feed the Babies," Clark transitions into a sultry horn-backed crooner.
The album's tracklist explores elements of punk, reggae, funk, R&B and hip-hop — but rather than bog down the record, Clark pulls them all together seamlessly. The production on This Land helps keep the embellishments in check — from Latin percussion to pitch-shifted samples, every sound finds a lane, melding but not muddling.
As Clark weaves effortlessly from a gravelly growl to sweet falsetto, from punk rock energy to swampy blues, the one constant on This Land is his massive guitar. It's powerful and commanding, but never out of place. Clark's precision has never been on such full display — at times his licks bloom between verses, and at others his searing wall of fuzz pummels you. There are frenetic face-melters, arena-sized riffs and Earth-shattering grooves that power the album through nearly an hour of jams. Clark has truly found his sweet spot on This Land.
Gary Clark Jr. has already proven he's the guitar hero for the modern age, but now he's shown he's got the songwriting chops to match. This Land is a triumph for Clark and a quantum leap forward for the blues. (Warner)