Posted on February 22nd, 2010 (4:45 pm) by Crawford Philleo

Am I qualified to review a new Gil Scott-Heron record? Here’s what I know about Mr. Heron: “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” I know it’s a classic, but beyond that particular song, the man’s career - now entering its fifth decade - is largely unknown to me. Research tells me Heron has collaborated with some truly great artists, among them drummer Bernard Purdie, king of the shuffle groove, once John Coltrane bassist Ron Carter, and a large portion of his work contains a healthy collaboration with keyboardist Brian Jackson. So is that enough? What a track like “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” really tells us about Gil Scott-Heron is that, though his music was once rooted in funk, his strong-willed spoken word delivery coupled with his well-defined disdain for commercial culture cast the performing artist as a voice of political awareness and social revolution for a specific generation, a theme that would continue to bloom with hip hop’s subsequently prominent emergence within American youth culture during the 80s and 90s.

Luckily for me, I’m New Here doesn’t require a deep knowledge of the artist’s past to be thoroughly rewarding. The record’s title suggest such an abandonment of history. Scott-Heron’s latest is a return to the studio after well over a decade and as a matter of course, the temporal-musical landscape in which he finds himself is vastly a different place. Would observations of the external political issues of the 70s really accomplish much today? Obviously the answer is no, but instead of resurrecting that kind of antithetically critical narrative and reworking its messages for a modern audience, Heron turns his attention inward and focuses on finding something perhaps more important, and that is himself. The result is a remarkably honest confessional that manages to strike a chord outside itself and within the listener. Getting a glimpse inside the mind of a man “past his prime” is also a journey of self-discovery, introspection, and contemplation.

Heron thus appropriately focuses on themes we can all relate to - loneliness, family, expectations, and fear, attacking them with both conviction and a righteous humility. “Where Did the Night Go,” is a powerfully poetic interpretation of insomnia, calling out to friends who just aren’t there to share his sleepless nights alone. His thoughts are channeled clearly and concisely as the record jumps from longer spoken-word pieces to short interludes that display a large personality between the lines of his brilliant prose. “If you’ve got to pay for things you’ve done wrong, uh... I got a big bill coming” Heron admits in the 12-second “Being Blessed”—one example of a candid, humorous criticism of his own life and mistakes.

Meanwhile, the music itself finds a comfortable nook in 2010. Heron’s attachment to soul leanings is apparent in his worn, graveled voice on songs like “I’ll Take Care of You,” but his accompaniments refigure those influences within new territory, most surprisingly in that of neo-industrial beats and electronics. It’s a style that dominates the majority of the record. Starkly composed, darkly haunting melodies lay a desolate landscape on songs like “The Crutch,” and “Running,” which highlight the sense of fear that comes with being alone in the world. But there’s also a lot of variety to be found as well. “Me and the Devil,” with its dark beat and string arrangement, almost sounds like a DJ Shadow cut. The title track, lightly plucked on the guitar, is a folk tune at its core. And a track like “New York is Killing Me,” with spiritual-like handclaps and bottleneck guitar lined up right alongside vintage trip-hop bass finds a middle ground that manages a uniquely original sound.

On the whole, though, the music takes a back seat to the record’s true draw: what is most important here are Heron’s words. His voice sounds old and wise, and in the short half-hour that the record occupies, not a single syllable goes wasted. Music criticism demands a rigorously educated knowledge of history, its many shapes, trends, styles, genres and artists. But the best thing about “I’m New Here,” is that you don’t really need all that nonsense to appreciate the record’s merit. When it comes down to it, you’re likely to learn far more about Gil Scott-Heron the man from these 15 tracks than you would from some Wikipedia entry.

Track List:
1. On Coming From a Broken Home (Part 1)
2. Me and the Devil
3. I’m New Here
4. Your Soul and Mine
5. Parents (Interlude)
6. I’ll Take Care of You
7. Being Blessed (Interlude)
8. Where Did The Night Go
9. I Was Guided (Interlude)
10. New York is Killing Me
11. Certain Things (Interlude)
12. Running
13. The Crutch
14. I’ve Been Me (Interlude)
15. On Coming From a Broken Home (Part 2)

Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

82 / 100
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