Saturday, February 27, 2010

Being Blessed

Gil Scott-Heron,
I'm New Here,
XL Recordings

Met a woman in a
bar. Told her I was
hard to get to know,
but damn near im-
possible to forget.

-- Gil Scott-Heron,
"I'm New Here"
(Bill Callahan)

After years spent struggling with substance abuse and
prison time, singer/songwriter/poet/proto-rapper Gil
emerges broken, but far from unbowed.

If anything, broken might be a stretch: his voice is deeper and
richer than before; rough around the edges—and through the
center—but not ragged or pitiful. On the contrary, his first al-
bum in 16 years is a blues album. And a very good one at that.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

If I hadn't been as eccentric as obnoxious as arrogant as aggressive
as disrespectful as selfish, I wouldn't be me. I wouldn't be who I am.

-- Gil Scott-Heron, "I've Been Me"

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

Listeners expecting the 60-year-old to pick up exactly where he
left off in the 1970s might be taken aback, but the depth and qual-
ity of this long-player is sure to attract new admirers (and his as-
sociation with a cutting-edge label like XL Recordings can't hurt).

That said, he's the same artist, the same man. And the former
child prodigy is still talk-singing in that same direct, conversa-
tional—rarely confrontational—style, but his gaze has turned
inward. These 15 tracks look at the Tennessee musician more
than they do society and its ills (see "The Revolution Will Not
Be Televised," "Whitey on the Moon," "Johannesburg," etc.).

Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom—like a stint on Riker's Is-
land—before you can see yourself clearly and face your demons.
I can't say for sure that that's what was going on during the 12
months he spent making this LP, but that's what it sounds like.

Produced by XL Recordings head Richard Russell and featuring
contributions from Damon Albarn and the Harlem Gospel Choir,
I'm New Here is blues in the 21st-century sense of the word.

The electronics that pulse and vibrate through the disc make it
a thoroughly modern affair, one that fits comfortably alongside
recent efforts from LCD Soundsystem, Thom Yorke, and Bur-
ial, especially the spooky Melvin Van Peebles-meets-Mas-
sive Attack cover of Robert Johnson's "Me and the Devil."

I've always had a fondness for
music with cross-generational
appeal; music that's timeless,
not trendy. And comebacks,
which are easy to over-praise.

As the Harlem-based father
of three told Entertainment
, "I'd like young peop-
le to hear my music." At 25:48
minutes, his comeback isn't epic in length, but every note, every word is, as Yorke might say, in its right place. Gil Scott-Heron never went away, but it's great to have him back—all the way back.

***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****

No matter how wrong you gone, you can always turn around.
-- Gil Scott-Heron, "I Come from a Broken Home"

Endnote: For more information, please click here.
Images from Mischa Richter and The Village Voice.

No comments: