Gary Clark Jr.
On the title track of This Land, Gary Clark Jr. is staking his claim to a literal place on the map, settling in and declaring: “I told you there goes the neighborhood… This is mine now, legit.” It’s a song with real-life roots in how Clark and his family have traded up in turf in his native Texas and been met with some suspicious glances upon move-in. And if it sounds like he’s had some practice in defiantly ignoring expectations about where he ought to live, well, that’s something he’s been doing musically his whole life. He’s a rock-and-soul omnivore who can survey the entire landscape of American music — not just the blues with which he’s so often associated, but reggae, punk, R&B and hip-hop, too — and say: This land was made for you and me.
He owns it all on This Land, his third studio album for Warner Bros. Records, which is sure to be seen as a breakthrough in establishing just how much stylistic variation Clark has at his command. There are plenty of the guitar-hero sounds that have already established him as a headliner, with tunes that reiterate that Cream influences always rise to the top, from a guy who’s long since come to be considered by Clapton as a friend and contemporary, not just acolyte. But if a lot of fans would consider Clark the closest thing we have to a modern Hendrix, what comes through implicitly in This Land is the sense of just how much Jimi loved and borrowed from Curtis Mayfield. You can think of Clark as one of the last of the real rock gods, along with fellow master singer/guitarists like Jack White, John Mayer, or the late, great Prince and the new album certainly won’t do anything to diminish that perception. But This Land is also a great soul record — one in which it’s easy to hear the lineage that connects Muddy Waters and Childish Gambino, with distinct nods to Marvin Gaye somewhere in the middle.