“Since my birth, I’ve been the greatest attraction on the Earth.” Presumably, those aren’t the first words that come to mind when you are consider a man who has been removed from the limelight for an entire decade. It’s impossible not to classify a line like that as grossly hyperbolic, but on Landing On A Hundred, modern soul troubadour Cody ChesnuTT embraces the spirit of the greats to make bold strides in favor of such a heady claim, rather than just a forgotten talent with a new record. On his new album, the world will remember (or discover) that ChesnuTT is a magnificent, genuine artist with a hell of a lot of meaningful things to say and a stunning voice to do the talking.
Let’s be clear up front: Landing On A Hundred is a mighty fine, urgent album with all the feeling of a true classic. Over twelve songs, ChesnuTT makes an effort reminiscent of and worthy of true icons like Curtis Mayfield, Fela Kuti, Al Green and Marvin Gaye. You can’t help but realize making such an album is ChesnuTT’s sole intention ten year’s after his ballsy, frequently outstanding double-album opus, The Headphone Masterpiece. He has taken it upon himself to create a music with definitive, human soul in the face of a music scene he believes is starving for it. The Atlanta native, who is now in his forties and a father of two, and his ten-piece band took to Al Green’s old Royal Studios in Memphis to record an album that could stand up to the legacies of soul forefathers in an age where too much of what is popular is moving so far away from such a sound. The resulting songs are thrillingly alive and deeply satisfying.
Before the first verse of the album opener “Til I Met Thee,” you will be decidedly aware that something special is ahead on Landing On A Hundred. A vintage air permeates the production, and ChesnuTT’s soulful “doo-doo doo-doo” intro is joined in exquisite harmony with backing female vocals. This comes before the brass, strings, and funk-doo-wop fusion hits its full stride. ChesnuTT’s composition is a true thing of beauty. “I felt your healing hand all over me, Lord / I was a dead man / I was asleep / I was a stranger in a foreign land / I was walking in darkness with no sense of direction when you came and made a way for me to see all of my afflictions.” Maybe this isn’t what you expect from the man who wrote The Headphone Masterpiece (Maybe it is though. After all, “The Seed” wasn’t just about hooking up behind a lover’s back and pushing a seed in her for life; It was also a genius metaphor for rock and roll.), but ChesnuTT is a mature, grownass man these days. On the stellar funk-soul of “That’s Still Mama,” ChesnuTT digs into a groove worthy of Curtis Mayfield and sings, “No matter how you feel, your blood’s on the seal / You can’t just treat her any way/ …Church boy, school boy, dope boy …/ Only reason I make this song / Because I love ya / Only reason I take the time is cos I don’t wanna bury ya.”
On the doo-wop-infused soul of “Love Is More Than A Wedding Day,” ChesnuTT posits, “It’s more than a checkbook, yes…/It’s more than a green light tag, so much more than a one-night stand…/Love is more than a wedding day / You can’t walk away when it gets a little heavy.” Considering the themes at the of much of of the R&B dominating radio these days (i.e. Chris Brown, Drake), it’s hard not to hear ChesnuTT saying something more substantial and necessary on Landing On A Hundred. He’s a man willing to step up to the mic to use it for positivity with a strong sense of masculine morality. Like the genuine icons who came before him, ChesnuTT isn’t posturing and his stance isn’t self-aggrandizing (Even when singing the aforementioned line “Since my birth, I’ve been the greatest attraction on the Earth” on “I’ve Been Life,” ChesnuTT is dropping essential knowledge. Amidst reeling off Malawi, Rwanda and Sierra Leone (among others), ChesnuTT sings, “African, you can live again / All over the world/…I’ve been so much more than all the world and its worth/…I’ve been the prisoner of a prisoner / The free hand of a prisoner / A believer and a teacher / A Messiah fallen to earth.”
ChesnuTT grapples with deep, human issues that have been all but absent in mainstream R&B, soul, and pop music. He excels at rooting his soulful worldview in humanizing, populist politics the same way Marvin Gaye did, and he does so to great effect on the late string of gems “Under The Spell Of The Handout,” “Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way,” “Chips Down (In No Landfill),” and “Where Is All The Money Going?”
On the piano-driven, horn blast funk of “Under The Spell The Hangout,” ChesnuTT sings, “I’m hungry for freedom, but I don’t know how to eat that big because I’m under the spell of the handout/…25 years to life, new degree, new occupation / Census can’t quantify the desperation ailing the hungry and the beaten all across the dreamy USA” before belting out, “Lord, give me my share!” On the chugging, breathy gem “Don’t Wanna Go the Other Way,” ChesnuTT shouts out, “I’m trying to hold on to my hope/ Trying to hold on to my faith in God/…I’m trying to hold on / Trying not fall /…Help me, God / I’m losing it.” “Chips Down (In No Landfill)” finds ChestnuTT singing atop lushly produced, Brill Building-esque orchestration, while asking “What kind of customer service do you expect from a harlot host?” before slinging off a poetic string of “My questions, my answer, my pension, my cancer, my title, my trophy, my theories and market-based strategies, my schedule, my time piece, my true independence, my salary, my trust fund, remote controls, my memory.” Chesnutt follows with a majestic chorus of “I sold my radio / I hocked my television / I sold my radio / I sold it all / I gave it all away /…so I could heal my body, heal my mind, my soul” over top of layers of gorgeous strings, flutes, piano clinks and backing vocals. On the sing-along funk of “Where Is All The Money Going?,” ChesnuTT repeatedly delivers both the titular question and a follow-up query of “Where does all the money come from?” over an infectious, fast-paced handclap rhythm without ever finding the answers to his questions. “This here is no story / This here is no tale,” he laments.
A decade has come and gone since Cody ChesnuTT splashed on the scene with The Headphone Masterpiece. The only material we’ve seen from him during those years was a 2006 live album and his Black Skin No Value EP in 2010. After mounting a Kickstarter campaign to get Landing On A Hundred off the ground, fans rallied around the urgent voice of this true artist to restore faith in his brand of heartfelt, necessary soul. After raising $20,000 to get the album released, ChesnuTT goes above and beyond to provide an astounding return on his fan’s investment with the twelve masterful songs of Landing On A Hundred.
ChesnuTT explains the name of the album as “Landing on something truthful. Landing on something purposeful…something meaningful.” With those words as his guiding purpose on the album, Cody ChesnuTT delivers the goods to maximum effect. This album has been a long time coming, but the patience of his faithful fans has not been in vain. Not only is Landing On A Hundred arguably the finest, most necessary soul record to be released in years, it’s also one of the best albums of 2012. The record is a thing of beauty, and we should all consider ourselves blessed to have Cody ChesnuTT back.
Landing On A Hundred is out in the US on October 30 via Redeye, and it is out now in the UK courtesy of One Little Indian Records
Cody ChesnuTT – “That’s Still Mama”
Cody ChesnuTT – “Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way”
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