Published on March 1st, 2019

Gary Clark Jr. by Frank Maddocks

If you’ve yet to have your “I remember exactly where I was the first time I heard Gary Clark Jr.” experience, you’re long past due. Clark’s peers in Austin, Texas know the guitar-playing singer-songwriter for his artistry and technique — no small thing in the famously judgy music capital where Clark was born and resides. But with his roots sunk deep in everything from blues to bluegrass to savage rock ’n’ roll, Clark the musician’s musician also speaks to any listener, anywhere, with an ear for what’s authentic and true. 

Clark’s new album, “This Land,” is a continuing testament to the wide-ranging musical influence of his hometown. “I kind of got introduced to everything by watching ‘Austin City Limits,’ which had Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Cray,” Clark says in his record label bio. “It all kind of hit me at once, and I just loved anything that sounded bluesy or rock & roll that felt dangerous and had loud guitar solos up front.”

It’s also as politically pointed as anything by Bob Dylan or Bruce Springsteen. But there is an urgency to Clark’s music that is beyond the reach of someone who hasn’t lived as a black person in America. The album finds Clark grappling with racism — past, present and persistent — and meeting it with defiance and hope. The title track is itself a delicate balance of the beauty of blackness, and the difficulties of living that beauty in America. Scorching and metallic, bluesy, hip-hop and industrial, the song surprisingly and gorgeously culminates in a thought-provoking acoustic coda — like a folk tune played on a porch on a peaceful summer evening.

Clark’s vision of music is vast and inclusive. But his crushed velvet sound — smooth, soulful and warm yet raw, earnest and worn — is all his own. And if you’ve seen him live, you already know he can turn a nihilist into a monk. He’s taken his Texas upbringing — singing gospel with his siblings in church, moonlighting in Austin clubs and dives — and fashioned it into a universal voice. Gary Clark Jr. is for the people.

Gary Clark Jr. performs 8:30pm March 9 at the Fillmore Miami Beach at Jackie Gleason Theater.  ~ Freddie Zandt

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