Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Gil Scott-Heron/Brian Jackson

  • Winter in America [Strata-East, 1974] C+
  • From South Africa to South Carolina [Arista, 1975] B+
  • It's Your World [Arista, 1976] A-
  • Bridges [Arista, 1977] B
  • Secrets [Arista, 1978] B+
  • 1980 [Arista, 1980] A-

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Consumer Guide Reviews:

Winter in America [Strata-East, 1974]
The jazz poet turns jazz singer--good idea, only he had a better beat and just slightly less melody when he was reading. Exception: "The Bottle," which you can dance to. C+

From South Africa to South Carolina [Arista, 1975]
This is what happened to Pharoah Sanders and I say yeah. The danceability of Jackson's music reifies the tribal aspirations of new-thing avant-gardism just as Scott-Heron's talent for modest analysis brings all that cosmic politicking down to earth. Also, I'm really getting to like Scott-Heron's singing--his instrument will never equal Leon Thomas's or Pharoah's, but that's not what it's about. B+

It's Your World [Arista, 1976]
The original version of "The Bottle," a protest songpoem about people who live in glass containers, was a disco hit, and now Arista is trying to break the live version on the radio, but these efforts have been disdained by discriminating progressive programmers everywhere--after all, how serious can it be if people dance to it? I hope you know the answer. If anything proves how serious Scott-Heron has become, it's the infectious groove running through all four sides of this concert album. You've heard of selling out? This is selling in. A-

Bridges [Arista, 1977]
Quite rapidly, Scott-Heron has developed into a reliable pro, like some old country singer. The music and singing provide lasting service, and the words evolve with the times, which is the point. In a self-annointed aesthete, that would be tantamount to failure, but for a message artist it's high praise. As long as his eye stays fresh, I don't believe Scott-Heron can make a bad album, and his fans will like this one OK. B

Secrets [Arista, 1978]
Scott-Heron stokes the protest-music flame more generously than any son of Woody, and in sheer agitprop terms "Angel Dust," one of those black-radio hits that somehow never crossed over, is his triumph--haunting music of genuine political usefulness. Of course, it would be hard to imagine the Arista promo team busting its butt to get "Third World Revolution" on the air as a follow-up, even if it had a hook, but I'll settle for a tribulations-of-stardom song with an educational refrain: "Do you really want to be in show bizness?" B+

1980 [Arista, 1980]
Having already written more good antinuke songs than the rest of MUSE put together, they add a third on their best album ever. The melodies are only functional but the rhythms are seductive and the singing is warm. And then there's the words. Subjects include compromise (necessary), "surviving" (cop-out), aliens (surviving), the shah (dead), the road (long), and the future (here). A-