gary clark jr.’s ‘what about us’ is a fresh vision of rural america

February 15, 2019
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The stream of music and visuals from Gary Clark, Jr.’s upcoming album, This Land, just keep flowing. Up next is a black-and-white clip for the generational anthem, “What About Us,”   directed by the wonderful filmmaker and photographer (and one-time member of England’s women’s Olympic volleyball team), Savanah Leaf. It’s a big track about a big man named Farmer Steph Williams that includes the raucous warning that the “young bloods are taking over” — but one that also clearly welcomes the young people’s participation in pushing through change. Which is a dope way of thinking about how exactly Clark, in some eyes a traditionalist blues-rocker, may actually see the world.

While the video’s rural trailer-park setting may fall into the stereotypes that go well with countrified electric guitar solos, that is where the expectations come to an end. The trailer-park through which Clark wanders singing his song is populated with characters from our world, not some red-state cliches. Two gender-fluid young people are playing in a blow-up pool, a Black single father is teaching his son to play the electric guitar, and, in the best pairing of the bunch, an octogenarian mixed-race couple sits on a riverside puffing on a blunt. It’s all shot as crystal clear, black-and-white footage, underneath billowy white clouds, with a mountain range for a backdrop. In other words, a postcard vision of ‘Murica — but it’s really ours to do with as we want and need.