Snap! Crackle! and Pop!
Chockle the Blob
Gil Scott-Heron, I’m New Here
Gil Scott-Heron is hardly a newcomer, but I’m New Here might introduce fans of his work to the man behind it. For 15 years, the legendary spoken-word artist/singer’s voice lay mute while he did time at Riker’s Island, his once-potent ideas becoming more like history than history in the making. “The revolution will not be televised,” but neither will it take place effectively behind bars. So, hats off to Richard Russell, head of XL Recordings, for visiting Scott-Heron in prison and planning this great escape of ideas: gut-wrenching cover songs and original poems stretched across stark electronic landscapes that effectively boost his sandpaper voice to the forefront. The title track takes Smog’s lyrics and applies a more defiant sound as if Scott-Heron were raging against your knee-jerk pity. Don’t feel sorry for him, he says, “being blessed is not just floating on air.” He hit rock bottom and mined it for meaning. It’s just a shame it took so long to surface. Don’t sleep on this record. (XL Recordings)
Corinne Bailey Rae, The Sea
Corinne Bailey Rae rose to prominence in 2006 with her self-titled debut, an album of Starbucks-ready R&B ballads whose sweet, sleepy melodies lacked the staying power of a strong double latte. Two years later, her husband of seven years, saxophonist Jason Rae, passed away suddenly, leaving the young widow to push on with a life and career inextricably tied to his love, friendship and talent. Bailey Rae could have thrown in the towel, but instead crafted a hugely appealing record that’s rich, honest and not entirely downtrodden. It seems a bit unfair to chalk up her artistic evolution as a soulful-pop force to fate’s twisted sense of humor. Sure, serious life experience lends extra heft to The Sea, but arguably, she would have just as easily produced a winning, sophomore release with her husband by her side. Recommended listening: “Are You Here,” “The Blackest Lily,” “Feels Like the First Time.” (Capitol)