It's always easy to forecast others' doom, announces Gil Scott-Heron near the end of his first album since 1994. Never having been one for the easy route — remember that, working in the early '70s, Scott-Heron did much of the heavy lifting involved in the invention of hip-hop — this most old-school of New York City griots instead examines his own drama here, narrating from a place he defines in "Your Soul and Mine" as both a wilderness of heartbreak and a desert of despair.
Drug trouble, family strife, too many years spent behind bars: Scott-Heron is unsparing in his confessions, as producer (and XL chief) Richard Russell fashions a kind of creaky industrial folk music out of beats, strums, even a looped snippet of Kanye West's "Flashing Lights." Playing Rick Rubin to Scott-Heron's Johnny Cash, Russell sets the singer/rapper on a number of unlikely covers intended to emphasize the effects of age.
Scott-Heron's roughed-up reading of Bill "(Smog)" Callahan's title track certainly does the trick, though his tender take on the Bobby Blue Bland hit "I'll Take Care of You" only makes you realize how much life he's got left in him.