Cody ChesnuTT – The Ruby Lounge, Manchester, 21st March 2013
Wearing his regulation blue Vietnam Vet-style combat helmet and decked out in a red cardigan and white T-shirt with vintage compact cassette motifs printed on the front, it is very easy to see why the words maverick and retro are often associated with Cody ChesnuTT. And for those already familiar with the 45 year old American soul singer’s story, they will also know that it is one of personal reawakening, reinvention and redemption. These facts are affirmed by ChesnuTT himself before this evening’s final encore Thank You when he explains why every song that he has sung tonight post-dates his debut album, the occasionally magnificent, though sprawling inconsistency that is The Headphone Masterpiece.
Cody ChesnuTT was a very different man when he recorded that album ten years ago. Back then he favoured the regular company of wanton women and everyday use of sexually explicit language over the Christian faith and wholesome family life that he now enjoys today. That record saw ChesnuTT’s dissolute proclivities merge with a musical diaspora that had seen rhythm and blues travel from its more traditional homeland in the Deep South to a new world populated by an even newer soul, whilst it’s follow-up, last year’s minor classic Landing On A Hundred, has thankfully made the return journey with him on what has been his very own Road to Damascus.
As if by way of a further rejection of his reckless past and even more validation of the purity of his present, it is straight to Landing On A Hundred that Cody ChesnuTT goes tonight, opening with a rousing That’s Still Mama before proceeding to perform the rest of the record in almost all of its glorious entirety. Painted over a seventy five minute canvas the show is nothing less than a triumphant masterpiece. ChesnuTT’s spiritual cleansing over the past decade is reflected in the honesty of his music and his current cultural reference points owe more to the more traditional groove of Green, Womack and Gaye than ever they did to hip-hop, rap and neo-soul. Recent single Til I Met Thee makes an early appearance in the set, lighting up the room with its Motown-esque riff and ChesnuTT’s reflections upon entering a brand new phase of his life. Despite being robbed of the finesse of the studio strings and horns, What Kind of Cool (Will We Think of Next) still retains its classic Memphis sound and emphasises the salvation ChesnuTT has found in returning to this vibrant source for his musical inspiration.
Whilst ChesnuTT’s message may be informed by the spirit of the church and his awareness of the current social and political climate (the latter in much the same way that Marvin Gaye was forty years ago on the epochal What’s Going On), it is not delivered at the expense of entertainment. In the best soul tradition and backed by a band who are in perfect step with his every move, he works the stage and the audience with a consummate ease and confidence which in much lesser hands would probably border on the corny and unctuous. He tells us that Love Is More Than A Wedding Day is his favourite song from the album and somehow stretches this beautiful paean to devotion across twelve wonderful minutes, embracing a simulated smooch with his wife, an audience sing-a-long and a gentle chastising of one of their number for talking, whilst all the while maintaining the effortless momentum of his glorious tenor. By the time he reaches Thank You Cody ChesnuTT’s valedictory words reflect exactly what we are all thinking and feeling about him; “thank you, thank you, thanking you so much from me to you, I’m so grateful”.