Gil Scott-Heron – I?m New Here (XL) 08/02/2010

February 24, 2010 by  

You would be forgiven for feeling skeptical at the very least prior to hearing this album from the soul-jazz legend. Coming 16 years after his last release, and having spent a lot of that time locked up on drug charges, you would expect the spoken-word poet to have a lot to say. In fact the record is less than 30 minutes in length, and is a highly introspective album, with Scott-heron reflecting on his colourful life.

Featuring covers of Robert Johnson to samples of Kanye West, this is a unique sounding record, and a definite revival for Scott-Heron, who sounds focused and reminiscent as he documents his life through both song and spoken word tracks. On the opening track ?Broken Home part 1? he describes his upbringing that helped shape him as a person, whilst ?New York Is Killing Me? has him yearning to be back in Tennessee, a striking contrast with his 1976 ?New York City? in which he states his love for the city. ?I?ll Take Care Of You?, a Bobby Bland cover, is the highlight here though. The piano-driven ballad has an epic feel to it that is the result of Scott-Heron?s fierce, emotional vocal.

It is indeed Scott-Heron?s voice that is perhaps the most apparent difference. Deeper and more weathered than on previous works, it is perfectly complimented by the dark, gritty production. The production, Scott-Heron?s vocals, and especially the mood of the record, have drawn comparisons with Johnny Cash?s ?American Recordings? series. Ageing musician (Scott-Heron is now 60) in confessional mode, perhaps warning a younger generation, probably a therapeutic process, resulting in a more emotional artist. This may not be the first in a series of albums, as with ?American Recordings?, but it is a triumphant return for a man who has been away for too long, and we should be grateful for it.