His name may not be known by the average Joe Soap on the street, but the truth is that Gil Scott-Heron is one of the most quietly influential musicians in the business. His amalgam of street poetry, jazz, soul and rap preceded even the most innovative hip-hop acts of the '80s - and considering that the Chicago-born Heron is still only 60, that's no mean feat.
The past decade was something of a troubled time for Gil Scott-Heron; having spent time in jail for drug possession, 'I'm New Here' marks his first studio release since 1994's 'Spirits'. It's a short album, too, at just 28 minutes long, but its compact running time makes for a more powerful listen.
Of course, the past decade has been one of political turmoil, too – but interestingly, 'I'm New Here' sees Heron (generally an outspoken voice on social issues) focus on his personal life more than the outside world. Parts 1 and 2 of 'On Coming From a Broken Home' sees him reminisce on his childhood over a looped sample of Kanye West's 'Flashing Lights', while 'New York is Killing Me' tells of intermittent loneliness in the city he's called home since he was a teenager.
Musically, these are simplistic arrangements that range from acoustic guitar-led numbers (the gorgeous title track) to bluesy thuds ('I'll Take Care of You'), and see Heron skip from spoken word orations to rich-voiced, semi-grizzled croons. Yet the fact that this album was released on XL Recordings (and produced by its owner, Richard Russell) means that there's a contemporary slant to proceedings, too - 'The Clutch' is a particularly dark, almost apocalyptic soundtrack thanks to its tense drum machine shimmer.
As a statement of his personality, 'I'm New Here' is undoubtedly an uncompromising listen – Heron is as truthful as ever in his 7th decade, and most of these songs effortlessly splice humour with hard-hitting observations. But as he says himself, 'If I hadn't been as eccentric, as obnoxious, as arrogant, as aggressive, as introspective, as selfish, I wouldn't be me". Still able to teach the kids a thing or two, it's good to have him back.