What's New and What's Different in Gary Clark Jr.'s Third Studio Album: A Review

Gary Clark Jr. essentially revived the Blues into mainstream music with the release of his album Blak and Blu in 2012. His incredible guitar playing is often likened to Jimi Hendrix or B.B. King; his guitar solos demand for attention in every track, and they obtain it with ease. Although aspects of R&B, soul, and snippets of some punk and hip-hop are hinted at in Clark’s debut album, it was undoubtedly and strongly grounded in the blues. His second album, released in 2015, The Story of Sonny Boy Slim, similarly features a strong blues sound infused with other genres– precisely what created Gary Clark Jr.’s unique and captivating sound. 
No doubt impressive albums, there was little lyrical narrative in either, and the sound was extremely similar. Because of this, expectations were high before the release of Clark’s third studio album last year. Fans and critics alike wanted to hear something outside of the comfort zone Blak and Blu and The Story of Sonny Boy Slim had stayed in, and they wanted more lyrical depth.
When the first and title track of Gary Clark Jr.’s third album, This Land, began, it was clear that Clark was prepared to deliver. A heavy bass, synth, and an EDM sound booms, seriously atypical of Gary Clark Jr. But that is only the beginning. By far the most powerful and political song on the album, “This Land,” tells both Clark’s personal story as well as a more general story of being Black in the American South. Right off the bat, Clark gets political and declares that this particular experience is taking place “right in the middle of Trump country.” He then throughout the song details his experience with a racist neighbor who tells him and his family to “go back where [they] came from.” Aggressively and passionately, Clark responds to his neighbor with “this is where I come from / this land is mine.” The music in this track and the lyrical narrative that accompanies it is strikingly different from anything Gary Clark Jr. has done before; he has already broken free of the comfort zone of his previous albums. 
He continues to break from the constraints of simple lyrics and strict blues. “I Got My Eyes on You (Locked and Loaded),” “Pearl Cadillac,” and even “Feed the Babies,” sound like they’ve drawn inspiration from Prince, and both feature softer vocals at times during the track. These songs as well as “When I’m Gone,” and others feature lyrics with personal undertones and more concrete themes– including love, fatherhood, and marriage. 
There are also hints of reggae and funk throughout the album, which is new territory for Clark. In “Feelin’ Like a Million,” and “Feed the Babies,” there are clear reggae beats and sounds that Clark has combined into a reggae-blues-rock fusion; making a completely new sound completely unique to Clark. The trumpets in “Feed the Babies,” are also a break from the sole use of guitar that both is highlighted and backs up powerful vocals. “Get Into Something,” features some punk influences which is, similar to reggae, not previously heard, but seamlessly sewn into Clark’s music. 
With all this change and development heard in This Land, it is comforting to have something as constant and consistent as Clark’s guitar. Every single track showcases Clark’s unique talent while wielding a guitar. Again, he is often compared to some of the best guitarists and musicians that have ever played– including Jimi Hendrix and B.B. King. Those who have compared them are not wrong. When Clark breaks into a guitar solo time stops. The notes that come flying off the fretboard tell stories in themselves. Clark’s guitar solos in “I Walk Alone,” punctuate every right moment and not only highlight the vocal range of Clark in the song, but also just add so much more emotion and meaning. Just because there are fewer minutes-long guitar solos in This Land does not mean that Clark’s playing holds any less significance in his music. If anything, his guitar paired with new styles of music and depth of lyrics signals deep growth and future direction by Gary Clark Jr.