I will be honest, when I got to today’s album, and I saw the artist’s name, Gil Scott-Heron, I was expecting something in the folk genre, perhaps some Gaelic blue-grass. As another of my son’s 10 bonus picks on the list, I had no genre to give it away, so I just selected today’s album, “Pieces of a Man”, and hit play.
Much to my surprise, Gil Scott-Heron is a spoken word poet who doubles on this album with a blend of soul, funk and R&B. Like many other black artists of his time, he was very politically focused, which quickly became apparent on the first song, a spoken word track, “The Revolution Will Not Be Terrorized”. Almost as if we were looking ahead to Public Enemy, it is very clear what a revolutionary sound this song was as an early, early predecessor to the explosion of hip-hop a decade later. Following this powerful and militant opening song, he switches gears into a chill R&B track, “Save the Children”. If you think the drumming is really good on this song, and on this album as a whole, there is a very good reason. Famous session drummer Bernard Purdie, credited with creating the sound of the “Purdie Shuffle”, plays drums on all of the tracks on this album. For rock fans, one of the most well known duplications of this sound, done to perfect precision, is the drum track for “Fool In The Rain” by John Bonham of Led Zeppelin. Purdie fits in well with a talented backing band who gives Scott-Heron a rich and full sound throughout the album.
Another chill vibe comes with this tribute track, “Lady Day and John Coltrane”, both previously featured in our blog. The activist voice continues on “Home is Where the Hatred Is”, and other tracks I really enjoyed include “I Think I’ll Call It Morning”, the title track “Pieces of a Man”, which opens a bit like “Aja” by Steely Dan, the funky “Chains”, and the soulful ballad “Peace”.
Once again, my son nailed it with his surprise addition to my list. Remember when I highlighted Sixto Rodriguez as an unsung and nearly anonymous version of Bob Dylan? This discovery of Gil Scott-Herron feels similar to me, with the comparison this time to the much more widely appreciated socially conscious offerings of Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield. I probably should have been familiar with this album and artist a long time ago, but better late than never. Well played, my son…