Landing On a Hundred
(Vibration Vineyard/One Little Indian)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Cody ChesnuTT’s career hasn’t followed any logical or linear progression, nor has it maintained any consistent momentum. And yet, it’s hard not to find his biography inspiring. A workaday long-distance operator in Atlanta, ChesnuTT quit his job in 1992 to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time musician. It took a long time for him to get there, however; ChesnuTT spent some time in the 1990s writing and producing songs for R&B group Six Feet Deep and working with Death Row records, but his first full-length didn’t arrive until 2002. By that point, the singer-songwriter had amassed an overwhelming amount of material, his debut album The Headphone Masterpiece spanning two discs and 98 minutes. It produced a crossover hip-hop hit with the Roots, “The Seed,” and was nominated for a Shortlist Prize. Yet following the release of the epic double-album, ChesnuTT mostly kept quiet, releasing the odd compilation track or EP, while pushing a follow-up further and further into the future.
That follow-up, Landing On a Hundred, arrives a full decade after The Headphone Masterpiece, and it’s a much leaner, concise collection of rich and soulful tunes that takes in the last 50 years of funk, soul and R&B, and catalyzes that history into something warm and vibrant, yet altogether fresh. ChesnuTT’s honey-laced vocals and scratchy chords greet the listener on first track “’Til I Met Thee,” a gospel-inspired number that splits the difference between Curtis Mayfield’s orchestrated psychedelic soul and the Southern grit of Stax Records. It’s a bright and powerful opening, but also one with a built-in sense of comfort that only a heartfelt soul song can provide.
Landing On a Hundred covers a lot of ground, both sonically and thematically. ChesnuTT ramps up a deeper funk on “I’ve Been Life,” while rattling off a roll call of African nations and celebrating his cultural heritage. On “That’s Still Mama,” a sumptuous blend of strings and brass underscores a tribute to his mother, while the swinging, swaying “Love Is More Than a Wedding Day” toasts to the power of an enduring love (it’s kind of all right there in the title).
When held up against The Headphone Masterpiece, Landing On a Hundred might not seem like quite the overwhelming accomplishment, but that’s a high bar to clear when it’s set impossibly high from the beginning. But then again, at 50 minutes, the album has little filler to speak of, and its dense production leaves no song sounding less than incredible. Ten years is a long time to wait for an album, but Landing On a Hundred goes to show those years weren’t wasted.