One should never underestimate Cody Chessnutt, an artist who has reinvented himself from neo-soul prospects to become a leading voice in alternative Black music.
From his debut LP The Headphone Masterpiece, to his last LP Landing On A Hundred, he has demonstrated that he is capable of making charismatic recordings that document the modern Black experience in the United States.
Cody came from a southern Black American environment infused with some of the more reactionary and extreme elements of 80s hip hop culture. But he has come a long way from the bitches and niggers rhetoric that undermined his wonderful Headphone Masterpiece.
We had to wait 10 years for the follow up. The resulting LP Landing On A Hundred shed the home recording techniques that lent so much intimacy and charm to his first album. Replacing the naive charm of the Headphone Masterpiece was modern studio technique that showed how powerfully effective his artful songwriting could be with a bit of budget to work with.
Now with this new album My Love Divine Degree he has taken from the best of both those worlds and has put them to effect in a very impressive way.
Through out this LP, Cody takes his quirky arty concept thang to the bridge. He really owns his otherness with tracks like This Green Leaf and the Image Of Love. Indeed this whole album requires that you prepare for the unexpected, even on the second or third listen.
For instance She Ran Away seems to be staying close to the conventions of pop-soul. Then suddenly, just when you are ready to dismiss it has a cute song, it turns prog-soul, like something more along the compositional lines of Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway than John Legend.
One of the things I find most uniquely fascinating about Cody is how he approaches his looming status as a paternal figure within the Black community. It is not just the song So Sad To See A Lost Generation that gives him the air of a wise elder in an African community.
For instance the song Make a Better Man begins with the line ‘no need for you to die young man, we’ve got a solution.’ And in Always Sebrena he sweetly sings ‘young man bright child I need your eyes on me.’ Indeed this unconventional song instrumentation uses the kalimba, a traditional African instrument. Cody actually evokes the spirit of the ancestors in his lyrics when he sweetly sings ‘I’d like to do that would make my elders proud’ over the kalimba’s playful accompaniment.
The LP is laced from top to bottom with Cody’s classic soul vocal stylings that conjure up memories of the late great Cuba Gooding from The Main Ingredient group, or Lenny Williams from the band The Tower Of Power. This helps create a relaxed comfortable listening experience.
Cody also can’t help but display his gospel-glam feathers fully on the LP’s final track Have You Heard Anything From The Lord Today.
Whether or not you are spoken to by Black Jesus tonight or any other graven image, check this record out for a soulful visitation.