Gary Clark Jr. is often looked at as the man who revived the blues. In his “The Bright Lights” EP and full length albums “Blak and Blu,” Clark Jr. produced heavily blues inspired songs with influence from rock and rap music in hopes of sparking his generation’s interest in blues music.
On his sophomore album “The Story of Sonny Boy Slim,” Clark Jr. deviated a little from the blues as he drew more influence from R&B music. His most recent album, “This Land,” is even more experimental than the last as it takes influence from a wide range of styles.
It is clear that Clark Jr. has not forgotten his roots in the blues; however, his new album stresses that he won’t allow himself to be exclusively a blues artist. The title song of the album, “This Land” is a politically charged piece that draws from hip hop, rock, R&B, and blues.
The song is centered around racism and racial profiling in America as Clark Jr. sings in the chorus, “I’m America’s son, this is where I come from.” “This Land” starts off with a gritty, almost electronic riff and is something someone would expect a Kendrick Lamar song to begin with. However as the song progresses the listener is met with the full and powerful guitar that Clark Jr. is known for.
While the guitar offers a blues rock feel, the beat of the song is reminiscent of reggae music. The vocals of this song lean more towards rapping at some points, but in other places he uses his traditional singing voice.
“This Land” is a piece nothing like anything Clark Jr. has released before as it is packed with unexpected turns, which is fitting as it represents the whole of the 17 track album. Gary Clark Jr.’s style and sound experimentation can also be heard on tracks like “Feelin’ Like a Million” and “Gotta Get Into Something.” “Feelin’ Like a Million” is more heavily influenced by reggae and hip hop than “This Land” as it more wholey draws influence from these styles. In this song there is very little obvious blues influence and the only real rock sound is the guitar which is distorted and prominent during the chorus.
“Gotta Get Into Something” is a track that is completely unexpected. With an instrumental that evokes “I Wanna Be Sedated” by the Ramones and the distorted vocals, the song is clearly an homage to the punk rock of the past.
There are moments where Clark Jr.’s blues influences creep in, like during some of the guitar embellishments.
While the album does offer many unexpected songs, there are some more of the classic blues rock songs that Clark Jr. is known for. “Low Down Rolling Stone” is a slower blues rock song with guitar that is similar in the distorted guitar tone to Clark Jr.’s song “Bright Lights” off of his first EP. This song begins with Clark Jr. singing, “Something’s going on with me, I’m not who I used to be, no,” which could be a nod towards the fact that “This Land” is nothing like any of his other albums. While it is clear Clark Jr. is expanding as an artist, this song is showing that he still is capable of producing the music he is known for.
At 17 tracks long, there is a song n this album for everyone. It is diverse, drawing from many musical influences, as Clark Jr. defies expectations and refuses to be labeled as one kind of artist. This experimental album was both symbolic of his new direction as an artist, but also his respect for his roots in blues.