In 2010 Gil Scott-Heron released his final album, I’m New Here. Although it’s got 15 tracks on it, it’s quite a brief listen at 28 and a half minutes. What the album is really all about is Scott-Heron’s voice. It’s right in the foreground across the album, and it’s a voice that stops you in your tracks and demands that you listen to it.
Many of the tracks are mainly spoken word tracks, the album starts and finishes with On Coming From A Broken Home (featuring a Kanye West sample) which sets the scene. Musically, the accompaniment is minimal in the extreme, with occasional touches of strings, keyboards and guitar, and some no-nonsense beats.
Some of the key tracks are cover versions. Robert Johnson’s Me And The Devil is old as the hills but it somehow sounds updated with Gil Scott-Heron’s grizzled voice over the pulsing music. The title track, written by Smog, is calmer with a plucked guitar as the only accompaniment as he delivers the key lines “I told her I was hard to get to know, and near impossible to forget”. It’s like a modern form of the blues. Later his jazzy take on I’ll Take Care of You also works well.
His originals fit in well with the material, Your Soul and Mine is all snapping beats and brooding strings, while New York Is Killing Me is even sparser, practically just voice, handclaps and percussion and The Crutch has arresting effects and percussion. There are also brief spoken word interludes such as Parents and Being Blessed which offer short pearls of wisdom from Gil Scott-Heron.
The album is not a million miles away in spirit from Johnny Cash’s American Recordings albums. There’s a fascinating darkness at the heart of it.