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..