Since the release of his first album, Blak and Blu, in 2012, Gary Clark Jr. has been championed as a savior of the blues. But blues is a rigid genre of just three chords and 12 bars; Clark, who as a teen idolized Boyz II Men as much as Hendrix, was never meant to just stick to blues. The singer’s latest release, This Land, is his biggest genre leap, pairing his most substantive lyrics yet with an eclectic mix of sounds ranging from rock to hip-hop.
The album’s title track, “This Land,” exemplifies Clark’s sophistication. Over heavy electronic synth and angry guitar bends, Clark responds to living in Texas as a black person. The song references an incident in which a neighbor approached Clark at his comfortable new home and refused to believe that the property could be his. “Paranoid and pissed off now that I got the money,” Clark sings. “Fifty acres and a Model A right in the middle of Trump country.”
On tracks such as “What About Us,” “Pearl Cadillac,” and “When I’m Gone,” Clark continues to seamlessly blend styles with compelling tales about hostile country communities, fatherhood, and love. The album does get confused at times, however, like the oddly rocked-out reggae swing in “Feelin’ like a Million.” Thankfully, though, he graces each song with his signature fierce guitar licks, which are as tumultuous as they are melodic.
Steadily breaking out of the blues mold and growing as a lyricist, Clark shows that a combo of vocals and lead guitar can still create a fresh new sound. Clark plays the Santa Barbara Bowl on September 27.