Cody ChestnuTT - Landing on a Hundred

Cody ChestnuTT
Cody ChesnuTT Landing on a Hundred.jpg
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Soul rocker and singer/songwriter Cody ChestnuTT has been aiming at this for a minute, and alas it’s here. ChestnuTT has finally delivered his Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis, his Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ Wake Up Everybody, his Sly & The Family Stone’s Stand! and his OJays’ Message in the Music. Like his former Rebel Soul labelmate, Martin Luther, Cody ChestnuTT has conjured his most cohesive, creative and easiest-to-enter project of his career, only to have it land in the marketplace as quiet as a church mouse. Which is a shame, because ChestnuTT’s very socio-political cry Landing on a Hundred actually does exactly what the title says, lands a perfect score.

Soul rocker and singer/songwriter Cody ChestnuTT has been aiming at this for a minute, and alas it’s here. ChestnuTT has finally delivered his Curtis Mayfield’s Curtis, his Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes’ Wake Up Everybody, his Sly & The Family Stone’s Stand! and his OJays’ Message in the Music. Like his former Rebel Soul labelmate, Martin Luther, Cody ChestnuTT has conjured his most cohesive, creative and easiest-to-enter project of his career, only to have it land in the marketplace as quiet as a church mouse. Which is a shame, because ChestnuTT’s very socio-political cry Landing on a Hundred actually does exactly what the title says, lands a perfect score.

At 43 (though appearing 10 years younger), the hip ChestnuTT has been a man out of his time for some time. An ancillary member of The Roots tribe, ChestnuTT is best known for The Headphone Masterpiece, a double-disc album recorded on a four-track recorder in his home that quickly became an underground sensation. In his lyrical philosophies and branding, ChestnuTT appears to be a throwback to when men walked on the outside of the sidewalk to protect their women from the street, a time when mothers only had to look at a misbehaved child—theirs or another’s—and instantly get respectful silence and calm, a time when we spoke of racial issues and concerns without charges of playing some inane card game and could publicly raise concern about the poor without condemning welfare as the only acceptable political framework for that discussion. In its social justice themes and political consciousness, ChestnuTT earnestly seeks to restore a kind of conversation, thought process, and social engagement that in these polarizing, individualistic times seems as far away as the grainy images of an Eyes On The Prize video, never mind that those times were at their peak less than two generations ago. Still, ChestnuTT’s effort is valiant, messages relevant and important, and creative strategies not without a sense of humor or rueful take on humanity. While he presents as Don Quixote, Cody ChestnuTT’s music is very much threading the fabric of our now while still keenly envisioning the tapestry of our future.

What is also both familiar yet new is ChestnuTT’s voice. His tenor has grown enormously since his debut, sporting a higher range, cleaner falsetto and a warmer natural, with a tonal clarity that places him among the best of the indie males in both the rock and soul genres. Favoring clean, straight notes to overrunning melisma, ChestnuTT ensures listeners can hear every powerful statement and thought-provoking story. In its differing vocal overlays and counterpoints, ChestnuTT’s voice echoes Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On during energizers like “Don’t Want To Go The Other Way,” the foot-stomping “Where Is All The Money Going” and the epic “Scroll Call,” a soul funk that tackles everything from slavery to the prison industrial complex. It’s a voice that haunts as a father instructs his son “Don’t Follow Me” down the same uninspired paths. Without a bit of self-righteousness, it educates on the gorgeously levitating “Love Is More Than a Wedding Day” and the doo wop of “Under the Spell of the Handout,” multi-movement song suites with as much Broadway swing as R&B sway. It’s a voice that startles but also reveals with the self-aware comedy of “Everybody’s Brother” (“I used to smoke crack back in the day/I used to gamble with money and lose/I used to dog the nice ladies/used to swindle friends/but now I’m teaching kids in Sunday school/and I’m not turning back/not turning back”). It boldly declares some uncomfortable racial truths on “I’ve Been There”: “Since my birth I’ve been/the greatest attraction on the earth”—which isn’t speaking about ChestnuTT’s dubious celebrity, but his race’s cultural and capitalistic cache. It’s a pained voice that compassionately rebukes the wayward son on “That’s Still Mama,” a song as enriched with love as it is with lessons. Its instrument praises on a jam that sounds more ready for Bob Marley & The Wailers—or at times a discotheque—than a church pulpit on what is nonetheless the bountiful worship of “’Til I Met Thee,” easily one of Landing on a Hundred’s compositionally complex yet embraceable songs.   

From doo wop and gospel to rock and funk, even pastiche, there are no elements that ChestnuTT is afraid of using to shade his stories of justice and woe, humor and hope. And yet, the project is thematically and musically cohesive, the unusual compositional transitions work and the lyrics are pointed but not preachy. Throughout, ChestnuTT illustrates his evolution as a teaching musician with greater musicality, melodic prowess and technical production values than his earlier recordings had shown, going on to now deliver an airy, erudite work overflowing with a transcendent love and humanity. With funky horns, dramatic strings, and professionally performed live instrumentation that hold ever fast to the reins of ‘70s soul, the band serves ChestnuTT and his material well with classic R&B groove lines. Nonetheless, ChestnuTT, a lover of unorthodox transitions, also manages to ensure that there is plenty of musicians’ elbow room for musically inhaling and exhaling within the life breath of these songs, a dynamism that capably prevents the resulting staleness of a clichéd retro-soul artifact. Cody ChestnuTT’s sophomore release is urgently and undeniably current and it does what The Roots & John Legend’s 2011 cover album, Wake Up!, failed to do: give fresh voice to these troubled times while penning the prescriptions found in the messages and experiences of now, rather than yesterday. Highly Recommended.  

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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