GIL SCOTT-HERON: Secrets (Label: Soul Brother)

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Gil Scott-Heron scored his biggest US chart hit at the tail end of 1978 with the addictive drug parable, ‘Angel Dust,’ which was the Chicago-born jazz singer/poet’s first and only Top 20 entry in Billboard’s R&B charts (it stalled at #15). It was taken from the Arista long player, ‘Secrets,’ which proved to be Scott-Heron’s second best selling album of his career – however, despite its popularity back in the late-’70s, today, thirty years on, ‘Secrets’ tends to be overlooked by both the punters and pundits. Scott-Heron’s penultimate collaboration with keyboard maestro and occasional flautist, Brian Jackson – with whom, in my opinion, Scott-Heron did his best work – has never been on CD before and makes its debut via Putney’s soul, funk and jazz connoisseur label, Soul Brother. There’s no doubt that ‘Angel Dust’ – with its killer chorus – is the standout cut, but having said that, ‘Secrets’ is certainly not a one-track album. ‘Madison Avenue’ – where Scott-Heron targets the commercial myopia of Wall Street and commoditisation in the western world – is noteworthy for its message, as is the bitingly ironic and humorous ‘Show Bizness,’ where Gil Scott-Heron scrutinises the entertainment industry. On a more serious note, the US penal and justice system comes under the microscope on the plaintive ‘Angola, Louisiana,’ which boasts a mesmeric groove. Both lyrically and vocally then, Scott-Heron is in tip-top form – but without the stellar contribution of supporting musicians like Brian Jackson (who plays synth bass on a lot of tracks), keyboard wizard Greg Phillinganes, drummer Harvey Mason, and the Waters sisters on background vocals, it’s doubtful whether Scott-Heron’s messages would have quite the same impact or potency. Ballad-wise, the laid-back, jazz-inflected ‘Better Days Ahead’ catches the ear, highlighting Scott-Heron’s characteristically languid vocals. Also in a meditative vein is the excellent ‘Three Miles Down,’ boasting a mellifluous flute solo from Brian Jackson and some gospel-infused female backing vocals. All in all, a great album from the Scott-Heron-Jackson axis – hats off to Soul Brother for making this forgotten gem available again.