10 years ago, Cody ChesnuTT had the world at his feet; a critically-acclaimed debut LP under his belt and a smash hit with “The Seed 2.0” (and The Roots)in heavy rotation. A long and successful career beckoned. But the following decade yielded only a short but sweet appearance in Dave Chapelle’s Block Party and an EP in 2010. It probably wasn’t what either Cody ChesnuTT or the people waiting for the sequel to The Headphone Masterpiece expected or wanted. But thankfully he’s finally back with Landing On A Hundred, a record that picks up where he left off–making soulful, funky music.
Much has been made of the album’s soul roots – it was recorded in Al Green’s old studios – but its beating heart is gospel. It kicks off with “Til I Met Thee,” an uplifting tale of a man, lost, now found: “I was a dead man, I was asleep, I was a stranger in a foreign land, til I met thee.” Straight up gospel, and it would take a heart of stone not to be moved by the joy that surges through this song.
When most people talk about Cody ChesnuTT, they concentrate on his charisma, or his voice. Which is fair enough, because let’s face it, he’s cool, and he can surely sing. But what really stands out on this album is his lyricism. Landing On A Hundred is a reference to telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and the searing honesty ChesnuTT displays here, combined with the perspective that ten years between recording can provide, makes for hugely compelling lyrics.
When he sings “This is for those who thought they couldn’t make it through” on the joyous “Love Is More A Wedding Day,” he’s singing as one of those “that thought about throwing in the towel.” On “Everybody’s Brother” he takes us through the journey he’s been on: “I used to smoke crack back in the day, I used to gamble with money and lose / I used to dog the nice ladies, used to swindle friends /But now I’m teaching kids in Sunday school and I’m not turning back.” This is real talk, impressive and inspirational in equal measure.
Landing On A Hundred deserves to be a triumph. It’s a pleasure to listen to, and perhaps its sheer existence (thanks in part to crowdsourcing on Kickstarter) is a fact to be celebrated in itself. But sadly it’s not the total success it deserves to be. Sometimes (understandably perhaps given how much is riding on this album) it feels like he’s playing it too safe and it loses the edge, the funk, the swing, the swagger that sets songs like “I’ve Been Life” apart. “Under The Spell Of The Handout” is a powerful piece of social commentary that deserves, well, a tune that’s equally as powerful. But nothing is here is ever bad, far from it. Even the weaker tracks wash over your ears with the warmth and charm that ChesnuTT’s voice blesses every song with. It’s just not as consistently brilliant as the best tracks, like the beautiful “Chips Down (In a Landfill) and “That’s Still Mama” suggest it could be.
Funnily enough, ten years later, the world is just as primed for Cody Chesnutt as it was back in 2002. While he’s been away the demand for good soul music has grown and grown. Let’s hope Landing On A Hundred can set him back on to the path to greatness.
– Will Georgi