One of the many highlights on the Roots' Phrenology is "The Seed," a riff-driven gem written, sung, and played by 32-year-old Cody Chesnutt. A version of that song originally appeared on his ambitious 2002 double-CD debut, The Headphone Masterpiece (Ready Set Go!), a 36-track lo-fi collectionon which Chesnutt played every instrument--and where his potential is matched only by his braggadocio. His attitude, always cocky and sometimes mean-spirited, is pure hip-hop--on "Bitch, I'm Broke," his one attempt at rapping, he upbraids a prostitute, "I got a big fat dick and that's all you're gonna get"--but his preferred musical style is a rich blend of soul and rock. His voice, at once creamy and raspy, recalls the gospel-tinged cry of Ted Hawkins, and he avoids histrionics in favor of controlled, insinuating repetition a la D'Angelo. Unfortunately, when his lyrics aren't unabashedly arrogant, they tend to be simplistic or nonsensical--even "The Seed" is marred by lines like "If Mary dropped my baby girl tonight / I would name it Rock 'n' Roll." "Daddy's Baby" is a weird lullaby ("No worries, no stress / You lucky motherfucker"); "Somebody's Parent" is an apology to his wife and kids for being an asshole--but he blames his bad behavior on nicotine withdrawal and too much caffeine. Luckily, Chesnutt can wink at his own excesses in a way that makes them entertaining--on "Look Good in Leather" he sings, "Motherfucker, I'm cool, with attitude and ego to spare." And his musical strengths, such as his easy way with both late-night rockers and early-morning come-ons, compensate for his lyrical weaknesses. He opens for Erykah Badu; the show is sold-out. Saturday, January 25, 9 PM, House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn; 312-923-2000.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Kurt I..