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'This Land' review: Gary Clark Jr.'s career-making album

Gary Clark Jr.'s "This Land" on Warner Bros.

Gary Clark Jr.'s "This Land" on Warner Bros. Records. Photo Credit: Warner Bros. Records

GARY CLARK JR.

This Land

BOTTOM LINE A grand exploration of music – drawing from blues masters, Prince, reggae, hip-hop and even the Ramones

Gary Clark Jr.’s virtuoso blues guitar playing has been impressive for years, almost at the expense of the songs on his previous albums.

However, on his new album, “This Land” (Warner Bros.), Clark makes an artistic quantum leap, writing potent songs that are even more powerful than his fiery solos. And Clark manages this in a variety of styles, ranging from the blues he is known for to new experiments in reggae, hip-hop and even punk, as well as several soulful numbers featuring Prince-ly falsettos. It’s a career-making album that will introduce Clark to all sorts of new music fans — a process that had already started with his buzzed-about debut on “Saturday Night Live.”

“This Land”’s bold title track sets the tone for the new Clark era — a racially charged protest song inspired by one of Clark’s neighbors not believing that he owned his 50-acre farm outside Austin, Texas. He uses the personal affront as the jumping-off point for a far more universal declaration — “I’m America’s son, this is where I come from … This land is mine.” The music of “This Land” is as pointed as the lyrics, with its snarling guitars and aggressive drumbeats.

Of course, Clark recognizes that maintaining that kind of intensity would be exhausting, so he tosses in some gorgeous breaks, like the Prince-inspired “Pearl Cadillac,” delivered in a sexy falsetto call-and-response with his guitar playing that is just as memorable as his rage in “This Land.” The Ramones-driven punk of “Gotta Get Into Something” is another welcome change of pace, as is the sparkling soul of “Don’t Wait 'til Tomorrow,” which spikes what could be a John Legend ballad with raucous funk guitar.

That’s not to say that Clark has abandoned his blues roots — as the instant-classic “Dirty Dishes Blues” shows — but “This Land” shows that he has so much more to offer than anyone ever expected.

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