Friday, December 23, 2011

Best albums of 2011

4 Gil Scott-Heron – I'm New Here/Gil Scott-Heron and Jamie xx – We're New Here

I know, I know I'm New Here was actually released in 2010, but I didn't find it until well into this year. And I can justify including it here by pairing it with his collaboration with Jamie xx We're New Here which was released this year and offers a brilliant counterpoint to the original. I still prefer the original version, but the updated record offers some fascinating different angles on these songs.
I want to make this a special tribute
to a family that contradicts the concepts
heard the rules, but wouldn't accept
and womenfolk raised me and I was full grown
before I knew I came from a broken home
Bookended by On Coming From a Broken Home parts 1 and 2 these two tracks sketch out a wonderfully vivid picture of Scott-Heron's upbringing and the early influences that shaped his life. Part 1 lays out the facts and from there we move straight into the next phase of his life with the ominous Me and the Devil. With a minimal backing of clanking percussion, handclaps and a supremely unsettling, needling synth he takes you right into the head of that young man struggling with and not making the best decisions.

The soothing acoustic guitar of I'm New Here provides a welcome change of perspective and has one of the best lyrics I have heard for a long time, including the wonderful line:
I'm the closest thing I have to a voice of reason
Your Soul and Mine steps back into the darkness again, but like a story that you would tell a child to keep them out of mischief, and there is a sense here that there may be a way out, some way to resist. This is reinforced with the short spoken word interlude about descendants and into the next track I'll Take Care of You. Beginning on a pure string note, backed up with chiming piano chords and its lovely protective promise to look after the unnamed lover or child. 

The demons return on Where Did the Night Go and New York is Killing Me, which sound like the descendants of those old Delta Blues songs, with their simple sparse backings and tales of sleepless nights and yearning for the Deep South.

Running sounds like a funeral procession and at this point the hard-won wisdom has been gained, but also knowing that time is running out. Nowhere left to run, running out of time, no point in running for cover. Turning even deeper into the dark The Crutch builds from a lone heartbeat into a swirling, desperate final reckoning.

And then we are back, full circle to his mother and part 2 of On Coming from a Broken Home. Only, as he says:
I came from what they called a broken home
But if they ever really called at our house
they would have known how wrong they were
We were working on our lives and our homes
Dealing with what we had
Not what we didn't have
My life has been guided by women
But because of them I am a man
And you understand that he has made sense of a chaotic and eventful life, gaining true wisdom, resolving and reconciling his past and heritage.

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