Saturday, February 12, 2011

Gil Scott-Heron - "Me and the Devil" (the song remains the same)

I didn't know that much about Gil Scott-Heron; sure I knew some of his more famous spoken word stuff, like "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" & "Whitey On The Moon", but I didn't realize he was a legitimate singer.

Herbert recently turned me on to GSH's 2010 LP "I'm New Here", which is a mix of songs and spoken word tracks. I'll review the LP later, but the center piece of the LP is GSH's version of the 1937 Robert Johnson classic "Me and the Devil Blues" (the title here is reduced to just "Me and the Devil"). Musically, instead of a standard blues arrangement, it is given the doom stomp treatment that reminds me of Johnny Cash's "God's Gonna Cut You Down", albeit with more of a synth/electronic sound. Vocally, GSH's leathery voice compares favorably with Robert Johnson.

As you surely know, this is Johnson's second song dealing with Faustian themes, the other being "Cross Road Blues", which is generally associated with him selling his soul for his guitar proficiency (of course, this is a great theme for musicians; see also: the 1986 film "Crossroads", Paganini, Tartini, etc.)

There have been countless covers of Johnson's song... Two more notable versions are Eric Clapton's, from his 2004 LP "Me and Mr. Johnson" and the Cowboy Junkies from their 1986 debut LP "Whites Off Earth Now!!". I'm a big Cowboy Junkies fan (even though this is their first mention here), but I think Gil Scott-Heron might have done a better version of this song.

Gil Scott-Heron: "Me and the Devil" (the official video incorporates ~1:45 of GSH's "Your Soul and Mine" from "I'm New Here")

Robert Johnson: "Me and the Devil Blues"

Eric Clapton: "Me and the Devil Blues"

Cowboy Junkies: "Me and the Devil Blues"

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