Cody ChestnuTT - Landing On A Hundred: B-Sides and Remixes

Cody ChestnuTT
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He’s been called the soul troubadour for his generation and rightly compared to such greats as Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield. Singer/songwriter Cody ChestnuTT is definitely the people’s musician, a social justice pugilist who wants it made clear that conscious music is alive and well, at times even radiant. His 2012 opus, Landing On A Hundred got him named the SoulTracks Editor’s Choice for Album of the Year and proved he was more than the low-fi, one-trick pony his 2002 debut, Headphone Masterpiece, suggested. While this seven-track EP of lyrically profound extras and refixes continue to deepen ChestnuTT’s legacy as a civic minded artist with something necessary to say, they largely do lack the undeniable infectiousness that made Landing On A Hundred the real masterpiece of Cody ChesnuTT’s career to-date.

He’s been called the soul troubadour for his generation and rightly compared to such greats as Bill Withers and Curtis Mayfield. Singer/songwriter Cody ChestnuTT is definitely the people’s musician, a social justice pugilist who wants it made clear that conscious music is alive and well, at times even radiant. His 2012 opus, Landing On A Hundred got him named the SoulTracks Editor’s Choice for Album of the Year and proved he was more than the low-fi, one-trick pony his 2002 debut, Headphone Masterpiece, suggested. While this seven-track EP of lyrically profound extras and refixes continue to deepen ChestnuTT’s legacy as a civic minded artist with something necessary to say, they largely do lack the undeniable infectiousness that made Landing On A Hundred the real masterpiece of Cody ChesnuTT’s career to-date.

There are moments on Cody ChestnuTT’s latest love offering that do feel like they belonged on the parent album, amidst a bunch of otherwise wayward children one can’t help but favor less. The soulfully slow Questlove remix of “What Kind of Cool” perfectly captures the exasperation, the hopefulness, the utterly complicated relationship the Black community has with a “cool” that provides cultural and economic cache, but is woefully insufficient as sustenance and too often the very thing that leads some of its members to the gallows and a premature death. The spare neo-soul framing of ChestnuTT’s voice here in uncovering the masks Black men in particular wear to survive, even as they suffer in silence and rage, is nothing less than inspired…and rebuking.  The deeply ironic anti-war song, “Gunpowder on the Letter,” has a bit of a hoe down on with the jumping jamboree duet with Gary Clark Jr. that at first glance appears fun and provides a welcome respite with all its banjo and foot stomping goodness, but speaks of some fairly dark veteran pains and frustrations. Producer Danny Swain’s Okayplayer “Scroll Call” remix squeaks by on the good list by presenting its earnest lyricism on a bed of loose fitting, straight-ahead jazz and insistent African percussion that provides all the righteous atmospherics of a dashiki rocking, incense-filled club at the height of the Black Arts Movement. It’s also ChestnuTT’s best vocal on the EP, showing some of his range.

“The Average Working Man,” a folk ballad worthy of Woody Guthrie goes Depression era, is indicative of the mixed bag that is the rest of the project.  As a guitar playing ChestnuTT sings the lamentations of the common man with clear empathy and compassion, one is moved, but would be hard pressed to remember much about the song thereafter except it was acoustic and sound heartfelt. Something close to “What Kind of Cool” is attempted at the much too minimal ballad, “Listen,” whose closing line almost redeems the slip of a repetitive mantra that kept asking: “Why won’t you listen to me?” Her response? “Because you keep saying the same things,” shutting down the party completely. The cut wounds, but the song feels undone.  The dense, but essential message of “Let’s Go POP (Let’s Pimp The Ghetto Lie)” gets lost a bit in the mix of funk guitars and incidentally diction conscious phrasing, and is a bit too routine in its funk light maneuvers to compel the repeat listens its message demands. But, at least there are lyrics for “Let’s Go POP…”  The Jay West and Manuel Sahagun deep house remix of “Til I Met Thee,” here called “Sense of You,” only borrows one or two lines from the original and builds a whole song around the lost in darkness motif. It’s adequate on its own, but loses completely when one considers the glory of the original single, one of the best songs of Cody ChesnuTT’s entire catalog. It deserved more than an average re-imagining and it failed to get one.  

Overall, the songs here feel like those largely left off Landing On A Hundred with good reason. Lyrically and vocally, Cody ChestnuTT is pristine as ever and for the completest fan, this one is a must-have, if only for those songs that do indeed work. Similar to his Black Skin No Value EP, this project showcases ChestnuTT at his most thoughtful and insightful, but not at his most engaging.  Moderately Recommended.

By L. Michael Gipson

 

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