“Winter In America” by Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - album review

features in: Album Chart of 1974Album Chart of the Decade: 1970s1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die external-link.png

TJR says

After three albums on Flying Dutchman, a creative-control dispute led Gil Scot-Heron to pastures new, and a deal was struck with Strata-East, a jazz specialist indie where socially conscious artists and Black Nationalism were most welcome. Long-time collaborator Brian Jackson is elevated to co-billing status, and the pianist / flautist takes on a more prominent role, co-writing 5 of the 9 pieces and even going so far as to lend occasional vocals. Bob Adams on light drums and Danny Bowens on fender bass complete the intimate line-up. The issues are weighty, and Scott-Heron addresses his people in the liner notes: “We approach winter the most depressing period in the history of this industrial empire, with threats of oil shortages and energy crises. But we, as Black people, have been a source of endless energy, endless beauty and endless determination. I have many things to tell you about tomorrow’s love and light.” If you’re going to serve me up heavy-duty issues then you damn well better make sure there’s some decent tuneage to go but, alas, that is far from the case here, as these Jazzy tingles bore the hell out of me and the messages become tiresome as a result. Thankfully, there are two major pieces which lift the set from the morass, both of which appear on side 2.

The Bottle” is a dancefloor epic, hitting out at the alcohol-dependent losers who have given up on life, urging them on to snap out of it and regain some dignity. The fact that this proved to be such a popular hit is very reassuring. Brilliantly, Scott-Heron later said of the single's success: “Pop music doesn't necessarily have to be shit.” There was major debate between players as to whether or not to include “H²Ogate Blues”, the album’s killer bluesy rap piece, the perception being that it didn’t fit and wouldn’t be understood. Thankfully, they saw sense in the end, and the full brilliance of the performance was given the platform it deserved. The Watergate scandal in the summer of 1974 gave Scott-Heron all the ammo he needed for this freestyling, one take monologue – and he took no prisoners. President Richard Nixon, his vice-president Spiro Agnew, and Frank Rizzo (the Mayor of Philadelphia) are amongst those in the firing line, as Gil lashes out at the “cesspool” of Watergate and political corruption in general. In his wide-sweeping diatribe, he casts his gaze over the state of the nation these past 5 years: “America! The international Jekyll and Hyde, the land of a thousand disguises, sneaks up on you but rarely surprises (Yeah!) Plundering the Asian countryside, in the name of Fu Man Thieu. Afraid of shoeless, undernourished Cambodians, while we strike big wheat bargains with Russia, our nuclear enemy. Just how blind, America?” The two glistening treasures on this LP are worth the admission price all by themselves.

The Jukebox Rebel

A1 [05:27] 4.5.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - Peace Go With You Brother (As-Salaam-Alaikum) (Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson) Jazz
A2 [08:19] 5.0.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - Rivers Of My Fathers (Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson) Jazz
A3 [05:17] 4.0.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - A Very Precious Time (Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson) Jazz
A4 [02:51] 4.5.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - Back Home (Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson) Jazz
B1 [05:14] 8.7.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - The Bottle (Gil Scott-Heron) Disco / Funk
B2 [04:38] 3.9.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - Song For Bobby Smith (Gil Scott-Heron) Jazz
B3 [03:25] 3.7.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - Your Daddy Loves You [album version 1974] (Gil Scott-Heron) Jazz
B4 [08:08] 9.5.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - H²Ogate Blues (Gil Scott-Heron) Blues / Rhythm n Blues
B5 [01:10] 4.3.png Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson - Peace Go With You Brother (Wa-Alaikum-Salaam) (Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson) Jazz

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