Cody Chesnutt is modern soul music’s best kept secret. He debuted in 2002 with the underground hit, ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’ – an album that showed that the Atlanta native was a new breed of soul troubadour… a singer/songwriter not afraid to make things difficult and challenging to the listener. Cody had learned his craft in the salad days of neo-soul in his native Atlanta but was soon to decamp to Los Angeles where he fronted a band called The Crosswalk. They, though, took him nowhere – so, toiling in his bedroom with an old four track cassette deck he set about putting flesh on his own musical ideas. The result was the aforementioned ‘The Headphone Masterpiece’. West Coast tastemakers quickly espoused it while the Roots re-tooled one of the songs for their ‘Phrenology’ long player.
Chesnutt, never predictable, then considered a movie career. He appeared in the cult movie ‘Block Party’ before launching his own one-man stage show, ‘The Love Release’. Then as quickly as he’d risen, he dropped off the radar – becoming a family man and house husband. He knew, though, that he still had lots to get off his chest and he acknowledged that music was the best way to express his angst and ideas. Earlier this year, therefore, he decamped to Memphis; recruited a ten piece band and booked himself into that city’s iconic Royal Studios, insisting that the engineer use two inch audio tape and the very microphone that Al Green had used to records all his classics. The result is the wonderful 12 tracker that is ‘Landing On A Hundred’.
The album’s title is a reference to the slang saying ‘Keeping It One Hundred’ – which means telling the whole truth; no lies… no bullshit, and that’s exactly what the songs do. Topics on the album include redemption (from all kinds of things including womanizing and crack addiction), the reality of marital love, Afro-American heritage, the constant love of mothers for their wayward children, the trivialities of trends and fashions and outdated over-valued social mores. It sounds heavy… and it is. I’m not pretending that ‘Landing On A Hundred’ is an easy listen; it isn’t – but, it’s delivered so sweetly and honestly that you will be beguiled by it all. Vocally, though Mr Chesnutt is always his own man, in places you can hear the sounds of Sam Cooke (‘Love Is More Than A Wedding Day’), echoes of Marvin Gaye (the layered harmonies of ‘Don’t Follow Me’) and the rhythm patterns of Stevie Wonder (the ‘Higher Ground’ influenced ‘Scroll Call’) and, throughout, his band can really cook.
Highlights abound – but two tunes really do grab the attention. First there’s the opener, ‘Till I Met Thee’. It’s a concise up-tempo, gospel tune extolling the virtues of redemption and even if you’re a non-believer, you will be uplifted by the gorgeous melody. ‘Chips Down (In No Landfill)’ is different again. A sweet, complex mid-tempo item it’s a heart-rending examination of contemporary social/business/moral values. Like everything on this album, it’s proper, grown–up soul music. “Real” modern soul, if you would … and if you care about soul’s future (maybe you were impressed by Gregory Porter’s last album?), you need to investigate this collection.