Gary Clark Jr. - JPEG RAW

Gary Clark Jr. – JPEG RAW (Album Review)

Gary Clark Jr.

Since first entering the Austin, Texas music scene in the late 1990s, it quickly became clear that Gary Clark Jr. was a guitar prodigy. Honing his craft until he was gracing the same stages as Blues legends like Stevie Ray Vaughan, B.B. King, and Freddie King, in the years to follow Clark has certainly left quite an impression on music fans. However, his newest album JPEG RAW, the first since 2019’s This Land, might just be the crowning achievement of the four-time Grammy winners’ still very young career.

His fourth overall full-length, and released on March 22, 2024 through Warner Records, JPEG RAW acts as a mind-stretching kaleidoscope of musical roots that puts Clark’s genius on full display. A bold, musical-tour de force, these songs serve as a bugling of sorts, a message from Clark himself that he will not be constrained to the ‘guitar hero’ box. 

In short, across twelve tracks Clark journeys through elements of African beats, Blues, Rock-n-Roll, Jazz, and Hip Hop. Additionally, along with the help of longtime collaborator Jacob Sciba (acting as co-producer), he builds on the creative badlands that sprouted This Land.

Looking deeper inside, the opening track “Maktub,” swings through a fuzz-filled Blues march that urges you forward. This is all while backing vocals are chanting you toward a mutual destination where you wonder exactly how to answer Clark’s call for a revolution. This is while the title-track opens with a jazzy drum fill reminiscent of a NYC club, before almost immediately exploding into a Hip Hop fueled plea. All supported with guitar licks just as funky as the bass line that is omnipresent, it sounds as if it is a march through the streets, again, calling for action.

Throughout the album’s entirety Clark’s searing guitars are bolstered by the incredible instrumental work offered by his collaborators – Guitarist Zapata, Keyboardist Jon Deas, Bassists Elijah Ford and Alex Peterson, and Drummer J.J Johnson. A solid cast of musicians, all of them play an integral part in the Soul and Funk undertones that remain present on each track. That said, these elements are on full display when the band dives headlong into a funky, head-bobbing, groovy track “What About the Children.” Making it even more exciting, the iconic Stevie Wonder also graces the track. 

With many more surprise guests throughout the album, Clark is also joined by the talented George Clinton on “Funk Witch U.” A mystical trip of funkadelia that shows the impossible range of Clark’s talents, he solidifies the ‘call-to-action’ motif that he has sewn into every note before and after. Considering his skill set, Clark is clearly using not only his voice, but also his guitar and musical roots to challenge us to think about the direction we are headed. In fact, this is never more evident than in the penultimate track, “Triumph.” It is here that Clark sees the way towards togetherness and prosperity…. and he wants us all to join. 

All inspiring, while JPEG RAW may not be overly guitar crazy, Clark still continues to demonstrate his mastery of the six-string. Doing so in different ways, his talents are explicitly felt on “Hyperwave” which carries on as an almost fog-filled Hip Hop tune until an inferno of guitar notes explode. 

As mentioned, Clark’s career began with wonderful comparisons to Blues legends of decades past. However, he made it clear early that he would not be confined to any one genre or style… especially proving so on this new album. All in all, Gary Clark Jr.’s JPEG RAW is the next great album of our lives. Proving he is not only a musical genius, Clark more importantly shows us that in times of sadness and strife, there is a way through the darkness. 

Not missing a beat, JPEG RAW is a must-listen for any and all that call themselves music fans, and that is why Cryptic Rock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.  

Gary Clark Jr. - JPEG RAW
Gary Clark Jr. – JPEG RAW / Warner Records (2024)

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