Recorded entirely in the singer's Los Angeles bedroom -- "The Sonic Promiseland," he calls it -- Cody Chesnutt's self-released double-album debut, The Headphone Masterpiece, has been likened to the White Album, but it's much cruder than that. The set is more like a beautifully messy tour of Chesnutt's vast influences, from acoustic folk to first-wave British invasion to pure pop. Throughout, Chesnutt sings in a thin falsetto that's occasionally beautiful and frequently off-key (no ProTools in the Sonic Promiseland, apparently). When he's good, he sounds like Curtis Mayfield; when he's not, his voice stretches almost to the point of vanishing. But in the end, that utter rawness is the album's greatest strength. Over three dozen songs, Chesnutt ruminates on the very things that made rock and roll, well, rock and roll: things like sex and God and love and money. And on one song, "Boylife in America," he actually tackles most of those right in the chorus ("All I want is pussy," he sings; "give me some religion/A brand-new Cadillac/And a winning lotto ticket").
It takes a certain kind of unflinching self-confidence to record a debut featuring 100 raw minutes of vocal outtakes and name it The Headphone Masterpiece. Cody Chesnutt, apparently, has that kind of confidence.
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