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Gil Scott-Heron
I'm New Here Mick Middles , February 15th, 2010 12:01

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In pre Bill Hicks days, Scott-Heron's wit and fearless polemic powered his poetic leanings. He seemed alone, in every sense, for thinking of comparable artists would stretch any given 'search engine'. In life too, it seems and despite his success, Scott-Heron has remained painfully aloof. Rather ironically, as it happens, for he did not take heed of his own warnings to black America and fell foul of addiction, living a downbeat life in the worst retreats of New York before bouncing between prison and rehab. For those who foul true warmth and heart in his extraordinary recordings, this was a sad truth indeed.

So it was that XL Records boss Richard Russell had the vision to dress Scott-Heron's musings in contemporary and the stark accompaniments of a fractured electronica. A curious vision, to say the least and it's only the arrival of a sumptuous heavy bass, four songs in (so powerful it seems to reverberate around my flat and, I strongly sense, anger the neighbours in a way that Metallica never managed).

I'm New Here is the fractured, not entirely comfortable sound of a man looking within. At times, this seems little more than a musing, a mumble, the mere beginnings of an idea and, if not for the endlessly inventive trippy background, you would hardly call it an album at all. And yet it is the slightness of Heron's appearance that offers an extraordinary intimacy here. Odd sentences spring forth. "From the wilderness of heartbreak" the voice cries from 'Your Soul and Mine', taking you down with him... closer... closer. The richness of his mature voice reminiscent of Dear Heather period Leonard Cohen, where depth, quality and soul could be held by a single word.

This sparse poetry is broken only by occasional 'songs', in the more traditional manner. Robert Johnson's 'Me and the Devil' is unnervingly raw, a slab of Delta blues dismantled to almost dubstep sparseness. It's a juxtaposition that works against all odds. Equally unlikely is the reworking of the Smog song for the title track, rather ironically the most challenging moment on the entire album.

Scott-Heron offers sound advice (literally) on the sleeve notes, asking the listener to "turn off your cell phone, turn off everything that beeps, rattles or whistles". Good advice indeed and, in my darkened flat, with only a candle for comfort, the ghosts and echoes were duly teased from the edges of this recording.

It only lasts 25 minutes but that matters little. For it has not true beginning or end and you could allow the cycle to spin round two or three times without realising. This is a artist who deals in the 'real'. On that point, you can be truly assured. Unworldly and beautiful, even when he sings about pulling on his socks.

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