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Gil Scott-Heron - I’m New Here

Who Gil Scott-Heron is continues to reveal and rework itself.

There is a considerable amount of irony in the title of Gil Scott-Heron’s new record ‘I’m New Here’, since the gravelly voiced mouthpiece for revolution has been a strong, influential presence in the music game since the 70’s. But it proves to be quite fitting, since the man presented on this album is indeed a changed one, at once redemptive and reflective but ultimately no less agitated. The Scott-Heron on display throughout this short but volatile album, his first in 16 years, is perhaps new to this modern audience; a revived and reformed artist who is grateful to again be given a platform to espouse his beliefs, if only to pay tribute to the people that have helped him get this far and rattle the cage one more time. After spending most of the last decade in and out of prison on various drug charges, Scott-Heron has hooked up with XL label head Richard Russell, who imbues Gil’s mostly spoken-word efforts on ‘I’m New Here’ with tasteful, poignant production that gives the album a fresh, contemporary sound while also staying true to the street-poetry roots of Scott-Heron’s past.

The album begins with an audacious sampling of Kanye West’s ‘Flashing Lights,’ a payback of sorts for West’s brazen sampling of Scott-Heron’s ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ on ‘My Way Home.’ It’s an effective way to link the present music scene with the past he’s reflecting on, as Gil’s tender, spoken-word ode to his grandmother ushers the record in affectionately. But the bluesy, dub-step buzz of ‘Me And The Devil’ shifts the focus back to Scott-Heron’s own troubles significantly, as this eerie but potent Robert Johnson cover perfectly embodies the struggle between good and evil that clearly has been plaguing Gil’s life of late. There is a delicate, Nick Drake-sounding acoustic guitar augmenting the moving title track, a cover of the equally stirring Smog song, which proves to be an enlightened, mindful admission of a vigorous inward revolution of Scott-Heron’s own soul.

The stark string and piano laden reworking of the Bobby Bland classic ‘I’ll Take Care Of You’ closes out the three covers featured on the album. And between those, the numerous short interludes layered throughout, and the two versions of ‘On Coming From A Broken Home’ that serve as bookends to the album, we are left with five new compositions that fill out the rest of ‘I’m New Here’. The best of these is the street-corner stomp of ‘New York Is Killing Me,’ which, when combined with LCD Soundsystem’s ‘New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down,’ could serve as the New York City travel bureau’s anti-advertising campaign; a lyrical double-edged sword that beautifully illustrates that the city that never sleeps has perhaps too much of everything for everyone, which could lead to ruin if you choose to overindulge.

‘Running’ is another standout, with Russell’s Burial-like production raging subtly behind Scott-Heron’s honest declaration that he is done running away, ‘because there is no such place. Because if there was I would have found it by now.’ So, Gil has settled in to face his demons and his mistakes on this record, but there clearly aren’t any apologies on offer here; in fact, quite the contrary - ‘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.’ And who Gil Scott-Heron is continues to reveal and rework itself, with ‘I’m New Here’ being just a glimpse into the creative and cracked soul of a man who returns, after some dark and desperate times, to share with us what he still believes to be vital and meaningful within his heart.

Tags: Gil Scott-Heron, Reviews, Album Reviews

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