Modern soul music the way it should be…
Wyndham Wallace 2012
If you’re of the opinion that soul music in the 21st century lacks the authenticity of its golden late 1960s / early 1970s period, then Cody ChesnuTT’s return is the news you’ve been waiting for. Ten years after his debut – the sprawling, 36-track The Headphone Masterpiece – the Atlanta, Georgia-born musician is finally back with one of the year’s most joyful albums.
It’s also considerably more concise than the lo-fi experiments conducted in his bedroom for his debut – clocking in at just 54 minutes instead of 90 – and far more luxurious. Though that record may have helped thrust him into the limelight – partially due to The Roots’ inviting him to join them on a cover of its standout, The Seed – it only hinted at the expansive territory addressed here.
It does no harm, of course, that on both the spirited opener, ‘Till I Met Thee, and Love Is More Than a Wedding Day, ChesnuTT sounds like a dead ringer for Marvin Gaye at the height of his powers, his voice capable of communicating laidback warmth and tender passion as Philly-style strings swirl around him.
Elsewhere, Under the Spell of the Handout throws a little blues into the mix before slipping temporarily into a shuffling, funky mood, while Don’t Wanna Go the Other Way is more urgent, one of the few tracks in which the production betrays the album’s contemporary origins.
Where Is All the Money Going? is similarly upbeat and maintains the genre’s tradition of protest, but ChesnuTT isn’t afraid of reducing the tempo. Don’t Follow Me adds lashings of reverb to create an almost oppressive atmosphere, his voice comfortably and affectingly reaching for high notes with little of the extravagance of many modern day soul practitioners.
Make no mistake: it’s not perfect. I’ve Been Life’s shout out to “Africa, you can live again” is perhaps a little hackneyed, while Everybody’s Brother and What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next) are a little too close to Terence Trent D’Arby. Overall, though, this is a long overdue, welcome comeback.