Album review: Gary Clark Jr – This Land

The cover for Gary Clark Jr's third record: This Land.

The cover for Gary Clark Jr's third record: This Land. - Credit: Archant

Clark might once again bite off more than the average listener can chew, but bear with it.

Three albums in and Gary Clark Jr still wants to have his cake and eat it. The Grammy-winning Austin, Texas, troubadour and stupidly talented axe-man is back with another truckload of varied tuneage, three years on from hit-and-miss sophomore record Story Of Sonny Boy Slim, which contained tasters of taut, tween-friendly pop, accomplished nu-soul and raw, retro rock’n’roll.

Some may love his schizophrenic approach to songwriting, leaping between punk’n’roll, acoustic blues, nu-soul, reggae and hip-hop, but it’s impossible to hit a groove or a mood with any of his records.

Perhaps, though, he’s cottoned on that the Spotify generation never listen to whole albums anyway, leaving him free to knock out slick, meandering nu-soul and R&B noodles (Did Dat, Feed The Babies) and dusty saloon blues (The Governor) without alienating either audience.

Weighing in at a rather bloated 17 songs, the smorgasbord does at least start with purpose, Clark addressing racial politics in the hunkered-down, confrontational title track, telling his racist neighbours “F**k you, I’m America’s son / This is where I come from”.

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It’s a maelstrom of twisted guitar and heavy bass set to a loping rhythm, a compelling middle finger to the roots of Trumpist populism. The passion peters out after the hard blues-rock of What About Us, Clark evincing more than a touch of Prince in his voice.

The muscly and moody, highly-buffed R&B of Don’t Wait Til Tomorrow is both forgettable and incongruously sandwiched between The Governor’s authentic, spit-and-sawdust blues and the down-home, dusky plod of Dirty Dishes Blues, which makes a virtue of Clark’s versatile, expressive vocal and finger-picked, lightly-distorted guitar.

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Other picks include the classic R&B of When I’m Gone, sparingly arranged and all the better for it, giving Clark’s soulful, scuffed croon a rare shot at centre stage, and grandiose falsetto ballad Pearl Cadillac.

An ambitious but flawed record that suggests Clark is, still, circling genius from a distance.

3/5 stars.

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