When, in 2008, XL Recordings owner Richard Russell pitched to musician and spoken word artist Gil Scott-Heron the idea of recording stripped-down versions of select songs from his storied back catalog, Scott-Heron’s final album, I’m New Here, emerged instead. But six months after Scott-Heron passed away in 2011, Russell returned to those reworked tracks, compiling them into another new album from the their New York sessions. Today, on what would’ve been Scott-Heron’s 65th birthday, Russell announced plans to release this posthumous album, Nothing New, in limited edition vinyl for Record Store Day, April 19. “Alien (Hold On To Your Dreams),” a song from Scott-Heron’s collaborative LP with Brian Jackson 1980, serves as our first listen from the album.
In this bare-bones reimagining, Russell does away with the intricate guitar work, drums, and back-up vocalists; just a piano and Scott-Heron’s voice are enough. And when he sings, “You have got to hold on to your dreams,” his voice weighted by the wear and tear of drug addiction, that uplifting message loses some of its liveliness. Instead, he sings with a sense of urgency, begging listeners to keep up the fight—his own battle scars reflected in the plea—making for a more personal, intimate experience. For comparison, listen to the original version of “Alien” below.