Thursday, 21 March 2013

Cody ChesnuTT Review by Dara Yazdani

19th March 2013 || Concorde2 || Review by Dara Yazdani || Photos by Mike Burnell 
Cody ChesnuTT could be described as the Jason Bourne of soul music. Having been "off grid" for the best part of a decade his initial promise was sidetracked by the typical rock star excesses that consumed his being and left him "exhausted". The need to patch things up with his long suffering wife and the desire to bring up his young children ensured his music career took a back seat and led to an extended spell in the musical wilderness.
A decades worth of water as gone under the bridge since the release of his lo-fi debut, The Headphone Masterpiece, and his subsequent exposure with The Roots on The Seed 2.0. ChesnuTT could easily have been just another minor footnote in the annals of rock history had the intervening years not seen him undergo a spiritual and musical awakening.

In creating new album Landing on a Hundred, he has ditched the home made scuzziness of his sprawling debut to channel the ghosts of Marvin, Al and Curtis to recall the golden age of soul music. It is a fabulous redemptive collection awash with horns, harmonies and social commentary. Recorded on analogue at Royal Studios in Memphis it has a strong, organic early 70's vibe befitting a studio used by Al Green for the majority of his classic material. In the flesh Landing On A Hundred sounds raw and visceral, its symphonic edges roughed up by a band that is bang on point. Following the best gospel tradition, at times ChestnuTT is so impassioned it feels like we are in church and he is delivering a sermon. Admittedly, I have yet to see a pastor who takes to the pulpit in a red cardigan and a Belgian army helmet.

The set starts with a bang. That's Still Mama has an urgent blaxsploitation vibe that scores tales of misguided youths valuing money over family relationships.  ChestnuTT may well be describing his youthful self. My favourite track on the album is the soaring 'Til I Met Thee, an ode to Cody's wife whose worship seems to border on religious devotion. Live it is shorn of its harmonies but thumps along with its chicken scratch guitar and insistent rhythm.
Everybody's Brother showcases guitarist and Forrestt Whitaker look-a-like Joel Johnson who takes the song in a bluesier direction then on record. The stories of crack, womanising and a life wasted are partly autobiographical but as Cody gets the crowd to repeatedly sing the refrain:
"No turning back"
 like a mantra to positivity, you can sense the relief he has achieved in redemption.
If Brighton ever decides to adopt a theme song What Kind of Cool (Will We Think Of Next) would be very apt dealing as it does with the changing tastes of fashionistas and fame seekers. I'd bet Cody has never been to Brighton before but he knows a hip place when he see it
"I mean London is cool...but Brighton is COOL"
We are treated to an old school jazz break down with the band changing up the tempo and showing their versatility. Kudos to Jeff Gaines on bass and Alvin Giles on keys for their musical chops.

There is a lot of audience interaction during the show with ChestnuTT getting down to eye level and pressing flesh with the audience. He starts asking the crowd about how long they have been married for.
"Too bloody long".
is a common answer but Cody's regales us with the sort of open-hearted confession you might hear from your best friend after seven pints. His says he has been married for 17yrs and there were times when his wife felt like a stranger to his wife until they managed to reconcile their differences. He shows a remarkable candour and you can't help but warm to him.


These confessionals lead up to Love is More Than A Wedding Day an old school love song whose cheery bounce is Cody's favourite track on the album. His improvised breakdown reminds me of Isaac Hayes rumbling spoken word deliveries mid way through his songs.
Despite protests that his voice is cracking and that "he sounds like a 13yr old".
When he hits the high notes, Cody comes back out for the encore and delivers a funky I've Been Life with its afrobeat rhythms complimenting the song's ode to Africa and black emancipation.
ChestnuTT might now be a well travelled veteran of the music scene but he hasn't forgotten where he comes from. Gunpowder On The Letter showcases his Georgian roots with its southern flavour and triple time hoe down that gets the audience into a frenzy.
That would be the end of the show for most performers but before disappearing from the stage he takes the time to apologise for not performing any of the old libidinous material that veteran fans may have expected. He explains that this is a new phase in his life and he feels a responsibility not to slip back into his old ways.
"I have two kids now. I can't sing those songs anymore"

Such artistic risks would normally be the death knell for any live performer but you can't help rooting for the guy.  When the new material is this good and executed to such a high standard it would be churlish to expect to cherry pick his set list. A performance of such a magnitude should warrant universal praise and a sell out show. It is a scandal the room is only half full.

ChetnuTT has the stagecraft and ability to connect with an audience that 99% of performers would kill for, yet his time away from the business has probably meant he has had to start building his fan base from scratch. For many artists that would be soul destroying but you feel Cody relishes the challenge. The old ChesnuTT is dead. What you see is ChesnuTT 2.0
As a grizzled gig goer of many years standing it is rare that I come out of a venue on such a high (one that lasts well into the following day). They say behind every great man there is a great woman. Judging by Cody's resurrection Mrs ChesnuTT must be one hell of a lady.

Review by Dara Yazdani || Photos by Mike Burnell (Copyright: Mike Burnell - All use to be agreed in writing first)

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