Gary Clark Jr., “This Land” (Warner Bros.)
Clark’s virtuoso blues guitar playing has been impressive for years, almost at the expense of the songs on his albums. However, on his new record, he makes an artistic quantum leap, writing potent songs that are even more powerful than his fiery solos. And Clark manages this in a variety of styles, ranging from blues to new experiments in reggae, hip-hop and even punk. It’s a career-making album that will introduce Clark to all sorts of new music fans.
The bold title track sets the tone for the new Clark era — a racially charged protest song inspired by one of his neighbors not believing that he owned his 50-acre farm outside Austin, Texas. He uses the personal affront as the jumping-off point for a far more universal declaration — “I’m America’s son, this is where I come from. This land is mine.” The music of “This Land” is as pointed as the lyrics, with its snarling guitars and aggressive drumbeats.
Of course, Clark recognizes that maintaining that kind of intensity would be exhausting, so he tosses in some gorgeous breaks, like the Prince-inspired “Pearl Cadillac,” delivered in a sexy falsetto call-and-response with his guitar playing that is just as memorable as his rage in “This Land.” The Ramones-driven punk of “Gotta Get Into Something” is another welcome change of pace, as is the sparkling soul of “Don’t Wait ’til Tomorrow,” which spikes what could be a John Legend ballad with raucous funk guitar.
That’s not to say that Clark has abandoned his blues roots — as the instant-classic “Dirty Dishes Blues” shows — but “This Land” shows that he has so much more to offer than anyone ever expected.
Glenn Gamboa, Newsday
Various artists, “Music Inspired by the Film ‘Roma’ ” (Columbia)
Give this collection featuring songs by Beck, Patti Smith and fast-rising star Billie Eilish major points for truth in titling. It truly is “inspired by” Alfonso Cuaron’s Oscar-winning paean to 1970s Mexico City: Not a single song is actually heard in the movie.
(To confuse things, there’s also a traditional Roma soundtrack album of music that is actually heard in Cuaron’s film, from ’70s Mexican singers like Juan Gabriel to Yvonne Elliman’s “I Don’t Know How to Love Him” from “Jesus Christ Superstar.” That’s available on Apple Music.)
But this album takes another tack, with the director inviting favorite artists to use his movie as a muse. The results are mixed: Beck’s orchestral cover of 1980s Brit band Colourbox’s “Tarantula” is pretty enough; Smith’s remake of her 1996 song “Wing” feels stately and profound. And Eilish’s spooky “When I Was Older” and Unkle featuring Michael Kiwanuka’s prayer-like “On My Knees” are highlights.
The problem is the best songs have a poetic quality without making salient connections to the film, while others, like “Psycho” by Bu Cuaron (the director’s daughter) and Ibeyi’s “Cleo Who Takes Care of You,” strive too hard to be specific. There is a bonus, though: The dulcet bark of the movie’s scene-stealing leaping and pooping dog, Borras, is heard both in two tracks.
Dan Deluca, Philadelphia Inquirer
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