Album Review: Gil Scott Heron’s “I’m New Here”

Written by William Maxwell Kellerman

I’m New Here
, poet musician Gil Scott Heron’s first studio album release since Spirits (1994), is a progressive album that showcases the power of Heron’s speech, both in quality and content, matched to aggressive hip-hop, electronic, and soul based tracks. The themes of the album do vary some, and the songs are well balanced and complimentary throughout the album’s entirety, but Heron often returns to a confessional style where the tone is reflective on the topics of mortality and a final judgment.

Whether or not the themes on the questions surrounding salvation are Heron’s own questions, 60 year-old Heron’s new release features the single entitled “Me and the Devil”, “Your Soul and Mine”, and “New York is Killing Me”. As a single, “Me and the Devil” is a microcosm of the whole album in that it pairs a traditional gospel and spiritual vocals and a clap track with a hard hitting drum beat and dub and step-electronic effects.

It might be fair to say that Heron made a significant effort to take his traditional style and soul influences through a progressive, electronic direction. The primary example of Heron’s modern influence could be the use the sample from Kanye West’s “Flashing Lights” off the album Graduation (2007) in the first and last tracks of the album. Heron is able to exhibit his original style well in the tracks “I’ll Take Care of You”, which features piano and soul  akin to Bill Withers, and “New York is Killing Me”, which sounds as if Heron is being backed by a street choir on a noisy, city corner.

The ambiguity of the poet and the musician in Heron is a quality that adds to his unique identity, but I’m New Here is indeed at times a work of poetry. Four of the fifteen tracks, which include, “Parents”, “Being Blessed”, and “I was Guided”, are short, speech interludes by Heron that sound almost like recorded excerpts from an interview. The eighth track, “Where Did the Night Go” has such a poetic quality one might wonder if Heron just recorded the vocals first and then constructed a beat around the rhythm of his speech.

The title of poet musician is a transcendent form of artistry that really seems rare, but definitely well received. Heron’s poetic, soul style is a genre shared by American poet, playwright, and activist Amiri Baraka. Baraka performed at the 2009 Chicago Jazz Festival with the Curtis Mayfield Tribute act and received an enormous positive reaction from the audience. Infusing classic soul tunes such as “Superfly”, “Freddy Dead”, and “People Get Ready” with extended free verse has a distinct and agreeable musical character to many listeners.

Although I’m New Here is a quintessential example of Gil Scott Heron’s artist, the album tops out at barley 28 minutes long and features few true songs that might cause it to lack a solid replay quality. Perhaps because Heron is such a niche artist in style, his recordings then might require a certain listener to appreciate I’m New Here on a regular basis. It isn’t that Heron’s music isn’t accessible to everyone, his song themes surrounding mortality are  certainly topics accessible to anyone, which is why his messages are so profound and regarded highly in both poets’ and musicians’ circles.

One might have to be in the right mood to feel the need to listen to I’m New Here, but one can definitely enjoy seeing a black escalade rolling down the street and hearing it slump “Me and the Devil” or even featuring any of a handful of other tracks on HBO’s The Wire if it were still on TV.

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One Response to “Album Review: Gil Scott Heron’s “I’m New Here””

  1. revnardintheplace Says:

    I just wanted let you hear this instrumental that I made for Valentine’s Day lemme know what u think and if you like what u hear check me out on youtube just type in revnardintheplace in the search bar

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