On his funky debut, CODY CHESNUTT sings a simple song -- or rather 36 of them.
”Praise the Lord!”
Cody ChesnuTT isn’t at church. He’s not reacting to good news, and he definitely isn’t being ironic. He’s answering the phone. It’s not as normal as ”hello,” but not much about this funk-soul brother from another planet could be called normal.
In six months, ChesnuTT has generated more buzz than a bee convention, fueled by tales of his electric live show, his eccentric habits, and the chance that, just maybe, his two-disc debut, The Headphone Masterpiece (available in stores Nov. 9), is the album of the year. Critics have tripped over themselves to call him the second coming of Prince, Jimi Hendrix, and Sly Stone, while the Roots, Nelly Furtado, and the Strokes all lined up to share his shine. Not bad for a guy who got dumped by his label and spent half a year holed up in his bedroom.
In 1999, Hollywood Records dropped ChesnuTT’s band, the Crosswalk, before releasing their debut. The band broke up, and ChesnuTT went solo. ”I’m glad [we got dropped],” says the singer, whose Masterpiece will be released by indie label Ready Set Go! ”It showed us you can’t depend on anybody in the business. It’s up to the artist and the people.”
ChesnuTT retreated to his North Hollywood house, where he wrote and recorded the new album. He poured out his heart and soul, laying down all the tracks (except sax) by himself. ”I created this musical circle in my bedroom with organ, keyboards, guitar amps, and a microphone in the middle,” he says. ”Being in that space, I could say exactly what I felt. When you’re in a studio, you’ve got people in the control room, so you second-guess yourself. In the bedroom, it’s all a diary.”
Masterpiece mixes soul, funk, and rock into a lo-fi stew laced with simple melodies. Lyrically, ChesnuTT lets his godliness shine — but he’s no choirboy, as evidenced by ”Bitch I’m Broke.” In ”The Seed,” a Masterpiece song he also recorded with the Roots for their upcoming CD, he mixes the sacred and the profane: ”Push my seed in her bush for life/…If Mary dropped a baby girl tonight/I would name her Rock ‘n’ Roll.”
Lines like that will get attention, but ChesnuTT wants more: He wants to make history. In February, the Strokes invited him on stage during an MTV2 concert. ”I asked them, Do you want to make history? Just call me on stage on ‘Last Nite.”’ They did, and the then-superunknown soul man danced around the stage with his scarf raised like an angel’s wings.
Did he make history? ”Well,” he says, ”why are you talking to me now?”