Gary Clark Jr.’s ‘This Land’: It’s a testament to how weary pop culture and those who write about it have grown of the electric guitar that a new album by this bluesy Austin, Texas, singer-songwriter isn’t a bigger deal. Clark is still pushing against the “next Hendrix” guitar-hero pigeonhole that threatened to close around him with his 2012 breakthrough, and his first studio recording in four years is an eclectic venture that carves into Prince-tilted funk, atmospheric soul and loping reggae for a release that reaches beyond Clark’s live, festival-ready jams. But the key moment remains the record’s title song, which kicks off the album with a searing, anthemic note of political defiance.
‘A Night at the Garden’: An Academy Award-nominated documentary short, this brief, jarring glimpse of a scene in America from February 1939 deserves revisiting long past awards season. Billed at the time as a “Pro American Rally,” this gathering drew 20,000 to Madison Square Garden to face a George Washington banner framed by swastikas and throw Nazi salutes before, at one point, violently descending upon a lone protester. With music and subtitles the only accompaniment for roughly seven minutes of archival footage, the short is a haunting reminder of not only what has happened in this country but also what could easily happen again.
Thomas Rhett: As last month’s Grammy winner Kacey Musgraves has become the face of forward-looking country music, country radio remains wedded to its more predictable past, as exemplified by this singer. Rhett was a recent musical guest on “Saturday Night Live,” and his music is Americana by way of Justin Timberlake with agreeably anonymous songs like “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time” being defined only as country music through occasional instrumental touches and the presence of faded denim. Musgraves has proved that country can support all kinds of new sounds and ideas, but an absence of personality isn’t the best of them.