Demos at the end
It's been nearly three years since Gil Scott-Heron died. He's one of my heroes. I've written about him a few times here already - the anger was always an important part of his writing and music. There was never a time that I didn't believe him. Every word he said or wrote, page or stage, for poem or song, recitation or record, it was the truth - his truth.
Yesterday I spent most of the day with Nothing New, the latest album from Gil Scott-Heron. Released as part of the Record Store Day run of exclusive titles this is a scrape of the XL vaults. These are pieces that were collected up when Gil was recording his final album - meant as an introduction to his earlier work for those new fans, those sold on his 21st Century blues growl with electronica flourishes and/or the Jamie xx collaboration.
So here's a way back to where it started.
It's like listening to the demo versions at the end rather than the beginning - here he is with just his voice and piano, stripping these songs from his early/mid 70s records and on through to the 1980s and mid 90s right back to their essence. His words. His voice. And that wonderful groove he would strike at the piano.
Lou Reed left us last year and I doubt he would have ever sat down with just an acoustic guitar and croaked out a few new versions of the old tales. I'd have listened to that though. Sure. That's what you do when you're a fan - it's irrelevant whether it's good or not, you give up a bit of your time, you hope you're going to like it, but you understand the action anyway. You want the best out of what's left.
But if Lou never gives us anything more - or rather, if there's nothing left for the record company to shill or for the friends and family to find and serve out as final recorded offering then Lou Reed's music has been well served by someone else. Joseph Arthur has just released his tribute/covers album, Lou. Simple arrangements, Arthur's voice, a bit of piano and guitar and a smart selection - leading off with the big hit, Walk On The Wild Side, taking in a range of Lou solo and Velvet Underground songs - and not just the obvious material either (he includes a version of Men of Good Fortune and one of my favourite Lou Reed songs, Sword of Damocles).
More on this record some other time - but it feels (a bit) like Joseph Arthur is imagining the demo versions of Lou Reed songs, albeit his demo-versions.
Arthur's a better singer than Lou Reed ever was. But I still heard Lou's voice the whole way through. Silent duets. It'll make a nice soundtrack for today I think.
Here's my review of Gil Scott-Heron's Nothing New.
Postscript: Funnily enough the new Gil Scott-Heron record reminded me too of another Record Store Day purchase from another time. This set of Velvet Underground rarities - demos you only got to hear at the end of their life, as it were.
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