It takes a certain amount of chutzpah for anyone to describe a record released before spring’s even broken as one of the best of the year with a straight face, but perhaps that’s only appropriate when the record in question has an even greater degree of audacity about it. Gil Scott-Heron’s I’m New Here certainly has that. His first album in sixteen years — a period of time blotted with stints in jail and rehab — has an assurance and sense of mastery that makes the competition look like a bunch of bloated charlatans, a feat even more impressive for the reason that Scott-Heron has ventured far outside his usual mode of spoken word-inflected R&B and incorporated elements of electronica, minimalism and soul-ish vocals, creating an aesthetic which is both contemporary and timeless.
Mercifully, the intermittent drug abuse hasn’t tampered with Scott-Heron’s powerful, gravelly baritone. Opening track On Coming From A Broken Home and the incredible Where Did The Night Go both recall The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, with their spoken vocals and sparse, synthesised beat, but they are more mellow, indicative of Scott- Heron’s advanced years and ascendence to the position of American Blues’ elder statesmen. There is a moving rendition of Robert Johnson’s Me And The Devil, which Scott-Heron somehow contrives to makes more desperately baleful than his predecessor, and an excellent concession to his piano-playing R&B days with I’ll Take Care Of You. It may not have the urgency of some of his earlier work, but I’m New Here proves unquestionably how relevant a figure Scott-Heron remains.