The first album in sixteen years from this exceptionally talented artist was a testament to the idea of survival as being central to the human condition. Gil Scott-Heron was a celebrated poet/artist of the 1970’s whose political voice was both highly articulate and very influential. But deep internal troubles sidelined him for quite some time, culminating in a drug-related prison sentence for much of the first decade of this century.
He returned to the performance arena as a changed man, focusing internally on reflection, his alienated life in New York City, and his awareness of his own shortcomings. The man is brutally honest, none more so than when he is interpreting the songs of others.
Standout tracks on this album are the title song “I’m New Here”, a spoken-word statement that puts the lie to most rap and hip-hop pretensions; then there’s the absolutely amazing cover of blues great Robert Johnson’s “Me and the Devil”, and a great cover of Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland’s standard “I’ll Take Care of You”.
The album is difficult to categorize: it is blues-roots-folk-poetic and at the same time it’s heavily accented with soundbites and a memorably pulsating rawness. It is very 21st century, unlike anything he’s done before and in its stripped-down confessional tone it reaches the listener’s own depths.
Sparely produced, this album conjures up Johnny Cash’s late-career resurgence which was crafted by Rick Rubin. This effort is produced by Richard Russell, owner of XL Recordings. Snap up this album in any way and any format you can. It may be some years before its riches are fully apparent, but I suspect you will come to regard this work as one of your musical treasures.