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Two bookends and mighty storm music
on 15 May 2010
The two bookends on this album are 'on coming from a broken home', a poignant and reflective tribute to Gil's Grandmother, which set the tone for this most personal of his albums. There is no 'The Revolution ...', 'B-Movies' or 'H2O gate blues', but the LP is no less political for that ... in a society where young black men are more likely to go to prison than to university, and where conservative rhetoric about 'broken homes' [or 'broken Britain' for that matter] crudely pathologises a complex mixture of economics, social pressure, continuing racism, existential striving, resistance and gender politics. The second bookend of the two defiantly reframes that situation as a struggle for survival: a pursuit of happiness, even.
In the 80s, Gil Scott-Heron was a lodestar in a fairly fluffy musical world, articulating with great humour and precision the concerns that many of us had in trying to make our way through life in the Reagan and Thatcher era. His voice is more battered now, more cracked in every way, but the insight and humour is still there - only ploughing a more visceral furrow.
The other pivotal track on this album is the exceptional 'Me and the Devil', where Gill channels the crossroads spirit of Robert Johnson and describes his own pact with the devil. It is this tornado which whirls through the rest of the album, magnificently underpinned by a wholly appropriate blend of deep blues and techno dramatics: hair-raising stuff on the track itself. Whether gently introspective, defiant, chaotically cut-up, the CD is a meditation on that diabolic pact, and Gil's personal jihad to reclaim himself and find a sort of redemption.
The bookends balance out that human tornado, humanise, soften and contextualise and externalise it, take it beyond himself. The grandmother we met years ago in 'Grandma's Hands' [another great G S-H cover] is there as a loving, tough, presiding spirit. Mending what seemed to be broken. This is 28 minutes of powerful medicine: an album, and not just a collection of songs.