For the (still) far-too-many people unfamiliar with the work of Gil Scott-Heron, the seminal black musician and poet was repackaged last year -- after a 12-year absence from the recording studio -- as the Daddy of Rap. Scott-Heron's late '60s and early '70s discography, along with that of the Last Poets, did indeed set a stage for song-poems and spoken word-style presentation over a backdrop of hip-hop-friendly jazz, blues and soul (think of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised") that a later generation would plunder, but the Daddy of Rap tag is one that Scott-Heron himself won't claim. Even a cursory listen to Spirits, his "comeback" record released last year by TVT Records, goes a long way toward explaining why: if Scott-Heron birthed modern day rap (a specious bloodline that conveniently discounts Scott-Heron's accomplished jazzy instrumentalism), then he's the father of a slow-learning stepchild too often distracted by guns and girls to have learned the lessons passed down from father to son.
Education and responsibility are the issues addressed in that album's lead track, "Message to the Messengers," and while Scott-Heron uses the platform to get preachy in the best sense of the word, his mission isn't to scold but to steer. And to his credit, Scott-Heron has his say in that first cut and then moves on, elaborating his album's spirit theme with a highly personal series of meditations on memory and transcendence that veer from proto-hip-hop to delicate jazz to the "kick it, quit it, kick it, quit it" revisitation of "The Other Side, Part III."
Spirits is the confident comeback of a man who never went away, and the bold statement of a poet who never abandoned politics. It's also a strong reinforcement of the idea of the politicized black artist as griot in the age of pornographers. If you don't know what a griot is, you've never seen Scott-Heron perform live. And if you've never seen Scott-Heron perform live, this opportunity -- organized as a benefit for the Legal Defense Fund for death row inmate Gary Graham -- should not be missed.
-- Brad Tyer
Gil Scott-Heron plays at 8 p.m. Thursday, February 2 at Show Time, 6234 Richmond. Tickets cost $15 reserved, $12 general admission. Call 789-2677 for info.
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
Henry Qualls: Qualls is an old man from the tiny town of Elmo, Texas (drive east out of Dallas till you hit the piney woods), who plays Maybelline -- his 1958 vintage Montgomery Ward guitar -- in a country blues mode that's been long lost to all but the most revered originals and reverential traditionalists. Qualls is billed, somewhat sensationally, as "The Last True Texas Bluesman," and all signs, including Blues From Elmo, Texas, indicate that this is the real deal. Houston bluesman Kinney Abair opens. At McGonigel's Mucky Duck, Thursday, February 2. 528-5999. (B.T.)
The Cramps' Flamejob (The Medicine Label) is the recently released latest in The Cramps' long line of horror flick rockabilly triumphs, and it sounds just like The Cramps are supposed to sound -- jagged, spinning shards of surf-and-slash guitar with banshee yelps of vocal glass. Nothing new, but weren't nothing broken. At Numbers, Saturday, February 4. 629-3700. (B.T.)
Amy Grant: Forget what you've heard about the "new," "pop" Grant. Her voice is unremarkably pleasant, but the former darling of Christian pop seems unwilling to stretch beyond the confines of sickeningly positive songwriting, no matter what pigeonhole she's mining. If she were still limited to the Christian-contemporary world she might have an excuse, but by not-so-pretty secular pop standards, Grant's music is just plain bland. Even the token Christian songs on her pop albums seem like pale shadows, lacking the energy of her previous Christ-centered albums. There's no question that Grant's capable of singing pretty and substantial songs, as the C&W-style "If You Had to Go Away" and the simply soulful "Say Once More" from 1988's Lead Me On prove. But the closest Grant has come in her pop trajectory is a cover of Joni Mitchell's "Big Yellow Taxi" on the current House of Love (A&M) (love that new heart-shaped logo). For now, though, Grant seems content with her "good is good" formula. God forbid she possibly do anything to shock her fan base of shiny happy people. At The Summit, Sunday, February 5. 629-3700. (Joe Hon)
Buddy Guy: "I think God sent people like Bonnie Raitt and Eric Clapton to open up the warehouse and let the blues out." That's what Buddy Guy said in a recent phone interview, and from his first session with Willie Dixon in 1957 to this year's gig at the Rose Bowl with the Stones, Buddy Guy has paid enough dues to say "damn right I got the blues." Enough dues, in fact, to use that line as the title of both his recently released autobiography and the scorcher of a song that's become his anthem. When Guy's not at his own club in Chicago, he's on the road, and all roads eventually lead to Houston. At the Tower Theatre, Sunday, February 5. 629-3700. (Jim Sherman)