Gil Scott-Heron is one of the most influential and important singer/songwriters to have come out of America in the second half of the last century. Much can be said about why this Gil’s lyrics are so original and powerful but ,it is important not to overlook his utterly singular voice which is so distinctive and rough and tender. It is a voice of experience.
And the way this voice of his floats over the shifting funk rhythms and the deep jazz, soul and blues melodies that he and his band create is nothing short of sublime. It’s also what enables him to draw you in to the difficult issues he does not shy away from dealing with. His sound is intimate and warm and direct and consequently it is hard to resist being moved and inspired by his message. And he has been consistently relevant whether it be on a personal or political canÂvas.
Early on in his career he wrote and recorded the song that for many is regarded as one of the first great rap tracks – The Revolution Will Not Be Televised. From its openÂing lines which turn Timothy Leary on his addled head (“You will not be able to stay home brother. You will not be able to plug in, turn on and cop out. You will not be able to lose yourself on scag brother, because the revolution will not be televised.”), Gil threw down the gauntlet to we the people, challenging us to get involved, be informed, retain a sense of humour and do the right thing. He was angry, politically savvy, compassionate and very funny.
When he was brought to Arista by Clive Davis in 1975, he was billed by the label as the black Bob Dylan, and whilst this reductive and over simplistic description is typical marketing bullshit, there is some raison d’etre for this moniker. For Gil is a protest poet of enormous subtlety who has railed against those things in the world that he believes are wrong. And like Dylan he has often used humour as a powerful weapon.
A new record from Gil Scott-Heron, forty years after his first solo album, is a cause for major celebration and something that the world needs now more than ever.