Cody ChesnuTT: The Headphone Masterpiece

Cody ChesnuTT: The Headphone Masterpiece

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Cody Chesnutt

Album: The Headphone Masterpiece
Label: Ready Set Go!

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During this year's Smokin' Grooves tour, Cody ChesnuTT accomplished the seemingly impossible, upstaging The Roots in a live setting. Dressed like the second coming of Sly Stone, he performed a rendition of "The Seed (2.0)" that stood as the highlight of the group's triumphant set. ChesnuTT's famous fans and attention-grabbing turn on The Roots' Phrenology generated enormous buzz, but rather than sign with a major label, he chose to go the independent route. The choice likely saved his rampant idiosyncrasies from getting lost amid focus groups and conservative radio programmers, but it's tempting to imagine what his debut would sound like with slicker production and more quality control. The Headphone Masterpiece is many things, but tight isn't one of them: Imagine Prince releasing Sign O' The Times as his debut for an idea of what a brilliant, self-indulgent, kaleidoscopic, contradictory mess ChesnuTT's double-disc opus really is. Musically uneven in the best way, the album rotates genres, moods, and attitudes constantly, sometimes in the space of a single song. "Daddy's Baby" begins as a sweet lullaby before taking a sinister turn as ChesnuTT moves from watching protectively over the titular infant to bitterly envying the child's blissful ignorance of the horrors of the adult world. A current of nostalgia for childhood innocence courses through Masterpiece: At his dreamiest, he suggests the music-box delicacy of Shuggie Otis' Inspiration Information. ChesnuTT's relationship with The Roots played a huge role in building his cult following, but hip-hop is one of the few genres the singer hasn't mastered. He takes a mercifully brief stab at rap on "War Between The Sexes," but sounds far more comfortable with the spare folk-blues of "My Women, My Guitars" and the subterranean soul of his The Mack-inspired "Serve This Royalty," which captures the seductive charisma and deep melancholy of Max Julien's antihero. On "Boylife In America," ChesnuTT offers, "All I want is pussy / give me some religion / a brand new Cadillac and a winning lotto ticket," in a song that embodies the spirit of David Bowie's "Young Americans" without sounding anything like it. The Headphone Masterpiece slacks off a bit toward the end of its first disc, but compensates with a knockout second half. Spreading 36 songs over two discs, the result sounds less like a cohesive album than a box set celebrating a wildly uneven but often brilliant career. (www.codychesnutt.com)

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