It’s good to hear Gil Scott-Heron’s deep voice – the voice of a poet mapping an emotional world – singing with more confidence than he has for a long while. After two decades struggling against drug and alcohol abuse he has made an album that those of us who remember him well will be happy with.
His words are from the heart of a black American. He manages to clasp the essence of what it is to be a human being in a world of oppression and alienation, where so many are denied a history. On I’m New Here, Gil reflects on where he is now and finds that he has somehow survived to become someone else, new in this place.
On “New York is Killing Me”, the longest track on this album of short poems, he sings, “Well I was born in Chicago but I need to get back and take it slow in Jackson, Tennessee, you know New York is killing me.” It has the feeling of a man dealing with his world anew. This is the general expression in all the songs. He is dipping his toes in the water again, but it is only a start. The title track, spoken against a sparse guitar and bass, wraps sound around his story of survival.
For anyone new to this beautiful singer-poet, this may not be the best place to start. From the mid-1970s to mid-1980s his work was full of fight, anger and joy as he tore the strips of hypocrisy from the US’s self-image as the cradle of democracy and freedom. On albums like From South Africa to South Carolina, It’s Your World and Moving Target, let alone the masterwork Secrets, Gil Scott-Heron was with us all the way, teacher and inspirer, and making us laugh out loud with him when he sang on “Bicentennial Blues” about Henry Kissinger getting the Nobel Peace Prize: “A piece of Laos, a piece of Cambodia, a piece of Vietnam.” The lyrics came back to me when Barack Obama got the peace prize.
His complete integration and understanding of the history and sound of black American music is what held him then and it holds him now. This is a sad album, but at the same time it is good to hear from him again, and even the sadness can lift you up.
Welcome here Gil, stay awhile.
You can listen Gil Scott-Heron’s new album on his website.
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