Cody Chesnutt, best known for the original version of “The Seed,” has put out a few new songs, with a new album supposedly on the horizon. In 2002, Chesnutt released The Headphone Masterpiece, which was 36 tracks, all recorded by Chesnutt in his basement. It experimented with soul, pop, rock, and rap, united by the crappy basement sound and a lot of humor, often profane. “The Seed” was picked up by the Roots, who took it from small and tinny to big, brutal, and funky as “The Seed 2.0” (Chesnutt can be seen strumming and singing the hook, dressed like a very hip cowboy, in the video). The Headphone Masterpiece had other moments of flash; one that always appealed to me was the minute-long futuristic-funk beat “Batman vs. Blackman:”
After this album, Chesnutt dropped off the grid to raise a family in the country. He didn’t pop up again until Obama’s election win in ’08, when Chesnutt dropped the song “Afrobama.” Then he released a 6-song EP at the end of 2010. But the two songs I’ve heard from his new album show a different side to the man, with a clear sound, an accompanying horn section, and a firmer focus on groove. (According to Chesnutt’s Kickstarter page, part of the album was recorded in the studio in Memphis where Al Green recorded his incredible run of albums in the early 70s for Willie Mitchell and Hi Records). Chesnutt’s “That’s Still Mama” comes out of the gate full, filled-out, with clear guitar, echoing backing vocals, powerful brass – there’s even some strings.
“Under The Spell Of The Handout” links a political message with piano swing and horn-driven slink, flexible and energetic. Chesnutt has a voice too, and since it’s no longer muffled underground, he can engage in some vocal pyrotechnics. Chesnutt sounds like he no longer needs the Roots to come in and turn a good idea into a great one. Maybe now he can do the greatness himself.