Gary Clark Jr.
This Land (Warner Bros.)
Reviewed by Kahron Spearman, Fri., March 22, 2019
"Nigga run, nigga run/ Go back where you come from/ Fuck you, I'm America's son/ This is where I come from."
Getting over the initial shock of hearing the explosive chorus on "This Land" requires some time. Considering the single leads off Gary Clark Jr.'s third major-label studio offering, the track's bull's-eye aim at MAGA's neck – and, in turn, some of his own fan base – is equally unexpected. Born out of an incident of extremely casual racism from a white neighbor here in Central Texas, incredulous over a young black man owning a parcel of land adjacent to his own, its leading off the album rings defiant not only through lyrical combativeness, but also in the 35-year-old Austinite's aggressive identification as a black man – as the Other.
Then there's the rest of the album.
This Land features a lot of guitar, "What About Us" driving home Clark's newfound rebellion with classic licks, yet more as a tool or channel for arrangement. He fingerpicks his way into "Dirty Dishes Blues" and shows off through the faux trap-skitter on "Highway 71." In reality, however, the homegrown blues phenom draws more from Curtis Mayfield, Prince, D'Angelo, and proto-punk pioneers Death, and thus employs his guitar as a hammer to mold his growling ballads, mixes of psychedelic soul ("Pearl Cadillac"), reggae ("Feelin' Like a Million"), and rumbling blues-rock ("Low Down Rolling Stone").
"Gotta Get Into Something," an album standout, pulls on Clark's love of polished punk to the point where one could believe him pivoting into the genre.
Ultimately, This Land feels like the truth. Not that 2012's Blak and Blu or 2015's The Story of Sonny Boy Slim weren't honest representations. Both felt like projects Clark was "supposed" to make, though. This Land runs as a philosophical course correction, as a truer start on his path forward.