Album Review: Cody ChesnuTT’s Landing on a Hundred


Cody ChesnuTT

Landing on a Hundred

One Little Indian Records

Release Date: October 30, 2012

 

Track Listing

  1. ‘Til I Met Thee
  2. I’ve Been Life
  3. That’s Still Mama
  4. What Kind of Cool (Will We Think Of Next)
  5. Don’t Follow Me
  6. Everybody’s Brother
  7. Love Is More Than A Wedding Day
  8. Under The Spell Of A Handout
  9. Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way
  10. Chips Down (In No Landfill)
  11. Where Is All The Money Going
  12. Scroll Call

 

With the release of his 2002 debut, The Headphone Masterpiece, Cody ChesnuTT was universally hailed as a modern-day soul troubadour, along the lines of the legendary Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder. And just like those soul legends, ChesnuTT has been known for his particularly frank and socially conscious ruminations on modern Black life in a way that’s powerfully relatable. Riding on a wave of socially conscious neo-soul, such as Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, the Roots, and others, ChesnuTT and his contemporaries proved that artists can say actually say something important and relevant, and be popular – hell, even be beloved as their influences were. But after what many will say was a meteoric rise to fame and fortune, ChesnuTT (as well as several of his neo-soul contemporaries) abruptly disappeared, leaving a gaping hole in modern Black music. A shame really, when you consider the pabulum and bullshit listeners are forced to listen to through their Clear Channel/Starbucks/McDonald’s/Nike corporate radio stations.

  But in the past decade, ChesnuTT had a period of deep, personal reflection and raised a family, and those particular experiences have informed and influenced ChesnuTT’s long-awaited sophomore effort, Landing on a Hundred. If you know your slang, the album’s title is a reference to the saying, “Keeping it One Hundred,” as in keeping it 100% truthful, 100% real. Although ChesnuTT eschews the DIY style of his debut effort, he went into Memphis, TN’s famed Royal Studios where Al Green, Buddy Guy, Ike and Tina Turner recorded some of their most beloved material, with a ten piece backing band. Recorded and cut on two inch tape, ChesnuTT did his vocals on the same microphone that Al Green used. And in some way the ghosts of the past have found their way on to Landing on a Hundred – sonically, the album has the warm, lush sound that can only happen on analog recording. Personally, vocals and horns sound better on analog because it brings out the richer subtleties of tones that you’d normally here live. It’s perfectly imperfect and that’s where its charm lies. It also manages to link modern Black music to the past in a way that’s respectful and loving, while showing the ebb, flow and flux of the Black experience. What makes Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, Stevie Wonder’s great material of the 70s or the great Curtis Mayfield’s work so moving to us today, is that the themes they sang about are relevant to us today – the hopes, frustrations and struggles they knew are the same that many of us know.

   Will Landing on a Hundred get compared to What’s Going On or to the Supafly soundtrack? In some way I suspect that it’ll be somewhat conscious comparison because Hundred comes from a personal place, while tackling much larger issues – namely, what it means to be a man in such tenuous, uncertain times. “I was a dead man,/I was a dead man/I was asleep/Knocked out,/Knocked out for a minute/I was a stranger in a foreign land/Oh, oh til I met thee, Lord,” Chesnutt sings during the album’s joyous and beautiful opener “Till I Met Thee.” As an opener, it sets the album for its recurrent theme – the power of redemption through God’s love, as well as the love of others. “I’ve Been Life,” brings the album from the streets to Africa as ChesnuTT shouts out the motherland, bringing up the name of every nation of that continent in alphabetical order. Every time I’ve played this song, I can imagine the peoples of every one of those nations standing up proudly, bringing the entire African Diaspora together under one rubric. And goddamn, the track is funky to boot. “That’s Still Mama,” paints a brilliant, novelistic detail of the sort of brothers I grew up with in Corona, the dope boy, the schoolboy, the troublemaking knucklehead, and of the undying devotion of mama, who will always be there through thick and thin. It offers a word of admonishment – treat your mama right, because without her you ain’t worth a damn. “Don’t Follow Me,” Everybody’s Brother,” and “Don’t Wanna Go The Other Way,” deal with troubled characters, womanizers, crack addicts, hustlers and the like struggling to keep their dignity and redeem themselves. In each of those songs, the narrators admit their faults, sorrows, failures and sins with an unadulterated, unfiltered honesty. And they humbly ask for forgiveness – they now see the errors of their ways, and are desperate to do the right thing. “Love Is More Than A Wedding Day” talks of deep, transformative, life-affirming love with a sweetness that’s sorely missing from love songs these days.

   Landing On A Hundred may well be one of those albums that come along once or twice in a generation – it talks about the concerns of our day with a timelessness and sincerity that future generations can associate with and recognize because it’ll describe the same exact struggles, frustrations, and hopes. The characters ChesnuTT sings about and the worlds they inhabit are rendered in vivid, novelistic detail and he speaks for them with a profound humanistic empathy. I’m reminded of a profile of Pete Dexter, a journalist who is the author of Deadwood and other novels. And in his farewell article with the Philadelphia Daily News, he famously wrote, “I recognize the lost faces because one of them, I think was supposed to be mine.” The knucklehead, the church boy, the dope boy, the womanizer and the other characters ChesnuTT describes throughout are the same brothers I knew and grew up with. And if circumstances were different, the lost men trying to find themselves throughout Hundred could have easily been me. Sure, it may have taken a decade for us to have this album but it’s a momentous, staggering work of a genius.