Fifteen years ago in 2002, Cody ChesnuTT released a sprawling, ramshackle and genius-filled double album debut entitled The Headphone Masterpiece. Hitting every base from rock through funk to pop balladry, it ran the gamut of his embryonic skills.
Part of the charm of that album was the fact that the rough edges remained on what sometimes appeared to be no more fully formed than demo level recordings. It was also filled with a filthy, rakish sense of self that had all but disappeared by the time he returned a new man 10 years later with his second full-length affair Landing On A Hundred in 2012. More sharply focused and less a mélange of styles, it mined the deep soul sounds of the ‘70s for its inspiration and found a spirit reborn and devoted to life, love, family and a newly discovered social conscience.
So, five years down the line, is the true embodiment of Cody ChesnuTT that divinely reinvigorated family man or does he “Look Good In Leather” as he did on his debut all those years ago?
With only the slightest tinge of disappointment (I confess to missing that swaggering braggadocio), it is clear that the same emboldened, sanctified artist exists here on his new album My Love Divine Degree. What does surprise though is the major collaboration on the album with Anthony “Twilite Tone” Khan. Forged in the unlikely surroundings of a Bon Iver/Kanye West session in Wisconsin, they bonded immediately and were soon at work shaping an exceptionally effective blend of ChesnuTT’s lo-fi soul and Twilite’s synth-driven funk.
ChesnuTT’s voice, as ever, is an intriguing mix of a mellow soulful burr and a plaintive, stretched growl that affects listeners enough to forego any misgivings of tone or tune. This also reflects the sounds on offer—some are polished and smooth (such as kinetic bumper-car jump of “I Stay Ready”), while others retain that ragged, imperfect perfection of his debut, such as the sunshine blast of soul that is “She Ran Away.”
Album opener “Africa the Future” is a jumping, Afrobeat infused funk number that sets things off to a fine start and also offers the first glimpse that the musical palette here has been expanded upon, relative to his previous album Landing On A Hundred. Lead single “Bullets in the Street and Blood” sees Raphael Saadiq lend his throbbing bass and breathless whisper to help concoct a woozily seductive tale of sadness: “Saturday Morning, eleven o’clock services / we’ve seen it too many times before / A mother broken hearted, a father’s head is hanging / with children too young to now the score,” the duo sings broken-heartedly.
“Always Sebrena” is a daintily beautiful piece of intimacy that sits cheek by jowl with the uproarious lo-fi rocker “Make a Better Man” and that sums up the delights and strengths of this third album by Cody ChesnuTT. He demonstrates an ability to blend genres, sounds and attitudes without any of it feeling contrived or indulgent.
Equally at home with delicate and boisterous, he possesses a masterful touch that is ever expanding the possibilities that lie before him as exemplified by the bouillabaisse of “Peace (Side-By-Side).” Featuring a contemporary drum track and his dismembered vocal floating in space to the accompaniment of glittering strings and a chanted hypnotic refrain shouldn’t work but somehow it does.
Notable Tracks: “Africa the Future” | “Always Sebrena” | “Bullets in the Street and Blood” | “Peace (Side-By-Side)”