Music critics are big on hyperbole. When reviewing albums they’re apt to scatter adjectives like “masterpiece”, “classic” and “iconic” like confetti at a chav wedding. In reality they know that true masterpieces are few and far between – not just in soul, but in any music genre. Soul-wise, I guess we’d all nominate ‘Otis Blue’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Shaft’ and Curtis’ solo debut as masterpieces and I don’t think too many people would argue with conferring the epithet on Gil Scott-Heron’s 1971, ‘Pieces Of A Man’ too. The Flying Dutchman 11 tracker has just won reissue on Ace’s BGP imprint and to reinforce its “classic”, “iconic” and, yes “masterpiece” status I need to tell you that it sounds just as fresh, groundbreaking and vital as it did back in ’71! Age has not withered it nor custom staled its infinite variety.
The album, of course, opens with a quartet of songs that are impossible to better in terms of passion, commitment, honesty and raw soul. ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’, ‘Save The Children’, ‘Lady Day And John Coltrane’ and ‘Home Is Where The Hatred Is’ became the bedrock of Scott-Heron’s career but the album’s seven other tracks are all outstanding too. The title cut, in particular, is a remarkable essay on human dignity and how to try and salvage it when its being assailed on all fronts. If it doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, you ain’t got soul. But, hey, you don’t really need a review here, you just need to re-connect to a true soul masterpiece.
For information this reissue comes in vinyl and CD. The vinyl set appears in a gatefold sleeve – a true facsimile of the original 1971 release while the CD version features three special bonus cuts. After recording ‘Pieces’, Gil went back into the studio with his college group Black & Blues to record more music. The Flying Dutchman tape boxes credits the group as “Gil’s Boys” and on the three songs (the bonus cuts here) Victor Brown shares lead vocals. One song, ‘A Toast To The People’ surfaced on the 1975 LP ‘From South Africa To South Carolina’ but the other two, ‘Chains’ and ‘Peace’ appear for the very first time… and, you know, they wouldn’t have been out of place on the masterpiece that is ‘Pieces Of a Man’.