"Nothing is off limits in a dizzying array of influences and styles mixed with the precision of a master of his craft": Gary Clark Jr hits a career high on Jpeg Raw

Texan electric blues multi-instrumentalist Gary Clark Jr's sixth album Jpeg Raw might be one of the best albums you'll hear this year

Gary Clark Jr: JPEG RAW
(Image: © Warner)

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From day one , it was obvious that Gary Clark Jr was never going to be boxed in by the trad confines of the blues world that he initially called home. With 2019’s This Land he spread his creative wings to spectacular effect – the fact that it bagged Grammy awards for best blues album as well as best rock song and best rock performance shows how he sent those genre boundaries tumbling down. But Jpeg Raw, his first album in five years, is without doubt his finest work to date, and the most musically diverse. 

Jazz, hip-hop, rock’n’roll, African beats, soul… nothing is off limits in a dizzying array of influences and styles mixed with the precision of a master of his craft. It’s lyrically smart too, the urgent, marching, adrenaline-and-fuzz-fuelled opener Maktub sending out a rallying cry for revolution from the off, while the uneasy jazz-club swing of the title track decries the impersonal, fake, filtered modern life of mobile-phone imprisonment.

The album flows beautifully, as that electrifying opener morphs to more reflective and then ultimately more funky ground, an entire work envisaged to be enjoyed as a whole journey. And, as ever, Clark’s choice of collaborators is impeccable, most notably on What About The Children, on which he teams up with Stevie Wonder to craft a bouncing, sunny slice of joyous, old-school R&B that could have been beamed in straight from the great man’s superlative Innervisions, harmonica, hand claps and all. 

Meanwhile, George Clinton arrives to add his bassy tones for the slinky, seductive flurry of funk on Funk Witch U, trumpeter Kenyon Harrold adds an introspective feel to the mournful soul of Alone Together, and British vocalist Naala brings a sense of drama to the theatrical This Is Who We Are. But it’s Clark’s own transformation from song to song that is mesmerising, spitting hip-hop-infused rock decrees one minute, crooning like a Rat Pack legend the next, before sliding into a sweet, soul falsetto.

Jpeg Raw is simultaneously a timeless album, with a magpie’s talent for picking the brightest gems of rock history, and a very, very modern concern, with its clear-eyed view of American society in 2024. The fact that musicians are still having to highlight social injustices after all this time is an indicator of how far we haven’t come since the originators stood up to be heard all those years ago, but here, Clark has more than earned his place among them. 

This album is the high point of his career, and it could be one of the finest albums you’ll hear this year too.

Emma has been writing about music for 25 years, and is a regular contributor to Classic Rock, Metal Hammer, Prog and Louder. During that time her words have also appeared in publications including Kerrang!, Melody Maker, Select, The Blues Magazine and many more. She is also a professional pedant and grammar nerd and has worked as a copy editor on everything from film titles through to high-end property magazines. In her spare time, when not at gigs, you’ll find her at her local stables hanging out with a bunch of extremely characterful horses.