[Cheap and Cheerful]: Cody ChesnuTT

cody-chesnutt-lo-res-press-photo-2“Know how to stay fly in the hardest times, But what we don’t know is that ain’t gonna be enough”

What’s better than discovering great music? Discovering it’s free as well. Cheap and Cheerful intermittently throws free downloads your way for continued listening pleasure that doesn’t break the bank.

Seen most recently supporting neo-soul Q.U.E.E.N. and fellow Atlantan Janelle Monae on tour, Cody ChesnuTT has also been carving out his own distinctive brand of rock ‘n’ soul in recent years. After splitting from L.A. rockers The Crosswalk in 2000, ChesnuTT set up a makeshift studio in his bedroom and sequestered himself for several months with a handful of instruments and a 4-track recorder to produce 2002’s critically acclaimed double album The Headphone Masterpiece. A genre hopping gumbo indebted to a love of rock ‘n’ roll, The Headphone Masterpiece turned a lot of heads with its prodigious musicality and lo-fi aesthetic, landing ChesnuTT on tours with Erykah Badu and The Roots. A subsequent guest slot on The Roots’s Phrenology for their cover of ChesnuTT’s ‘The Seed’, an appearance in Dave Chapelle’s Block Party and electrifying live performances only added to his growing cult status, yet ChesnuTT would not put out his second full-length album for another ten years. Following a quiet period of family life and reflection, punctuated by the release of Black Skin No Value EP in 2010, ChesnuTT returned with the smoking hot Landing On A Hundred in 2012. True to his bedroom basics roots, ChesnuTT has now chosen to make the Kickstarter funded album available for free over at Noisetrade, parcelled up with guest remixes and juicy outtakes from recording sessions at Memphis’s Royal Studios.

Like its predecessor, Landing On A Hundred covers a wide range of musical flavours and life issues, from socially conscious jams like ‘Under the Spell of the Handout’s honky-tonk funk and the gospel redemption of ‘Everybody’s Brother’, to ‘That’s Still Mama’s inner city holler and the sweet Sam Cooke-isms of ‘Love Is More Than a Wedding Day’. Meanwhile, the B-sides and remixes reveal even further scope and depth. The softly caressing lullaby of ‘Listen’ is counterpointed by country-blues stomper ‘Gunpowder On The Letter’, featuring searing leads from Gary Clark Jr., while in the hands of The Roots drummer and frontman Questlove ‘What Kind Of Cool’s shuffling beat is slowed to a soporific haze and an Eddie Hazel-worthy fuzzed-up solo leads out of the fog. Make no mistake, it’s a headphone masterpiece worth checking out

Landing On A Hundred is out now through Vibration Vineyard/One Little Indian and is available for free download here. Cody ChesnuTT is currently on a European tour, find dates here.

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[Album Review]: Lee Fields – Emma Jean

LF_Emma-Jean_Cover-smaller “No man is an island, but you cast me off”

“This is a man’s world,” James Brown once posited, before clarifying “But, it wouldn’t be nothin’, nothin’, without a woman or a girl”. On his third album for Truth and Soul Records with The Expressions, it seems these words hang heavy over Lee Fields, a man once nicknamed “Little JB” for his vocal and physical resemblance to The Godfather of Soul. After toiling away in minor obscurity for the best part of fifty years, Fields builds on the acclaim of recent years and perhaps reveals something about himself on a record named Emma Jean for his mother, where hard times and breaking hearts abound.

Partly recorded and mixed in Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys’s Easy Eye Sound Studio in Nashville, Emma Jean sees Fields moving at a slower, but more confident pace than previous. Rather than the kicking and screaming Fields found on Faithful Man (which featured in The Grapevine’s Best Albums of 2012), Emma Jean finds Fields settling comfortably into his role as an elder statesman of old-school R&B and reconnecting with his Southern roots on the smooth Tulsa soul of the late J.J. Cale’s ‘Magnolia’. While paying respect to the original, The Expressions trade wheezing harmonica for shimmering pedal steel and Fields’s resonant vocals lift this devotional to giddy heights. Similarly, the Dan Auerbach penned ‘Paralyze’ oozes with bluesy drama, while the reeling groove and gospel backing vocals of ‘In The Woods’ recalls the finest hours of Memphis’s Hi Records. Elsewhere though, Fields still excels in delivering hard-hitting funk, especially in the unadulterated foot-stompin’and hollerin’ of ‘Talk To Somebody’.

Throughout Emma Jean, Fields illustrates faltering relationships and the differing reactions of his male protagonists, ranging from bitterness and chest-beating to reconciliatory promises and torch carrying for lost love, which reach their peak in the closing pair ‘Stone Angel’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Left abandoned and burned by the femme fatale of ‘Stone Angel’, Fields’s outward machismo is undermined by private promises of better times which ultimately fall away to the heartfelt petition of ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Brought to his knees, Fields wails like a man with nothing left to lose as slinky guitar and building horn blasts conjure up the spirit of Sam Cooke’s ‘Bring It On Home’, drawing Emma Jean to a triumphant close.

While the influences he channels into his work are plain to see, Lee Fields always keeps his best foot striding forward to somewhere innovative and new. And, at the age of 63, he may have delivered the finest album of his career. So far…

Emma Jean will be released through Truth and Soul Records on Monday 2nd June.

 

[From The Cutting Room Floor]: The Beatles, Marvin Gaye and The Gaslight Anthem

th21-record-player-music-flickr-stacey-d-630w

Often, seeking out new music can feel like a treasure hunt (or sweeping a minefield, depending on how you look at it). And every now and then you will come across those completely unexpected diamonds-in-the-rough that appear in the form of B-sides, outtakes or bootlegged live cuts. Those happy moments where you stumble across something that stops you in your tracks and think ‘Why is this only a B-side?’. This feature is about digging out those deeper cuts that deserve more attention than mere relegation.

‘Don’t Let Me Down’ – The Beatles
I’m going straight for the jugular this week. Gracing the other side of the Get Back single, this should really qualify as a double A-Side. Written by John Lennon as an ego-free plea to Yoko Ono, ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ is The Beatles at their most soulful, in my opinion. Lennon and McCartney’s hollering vocals channel Otis Redding, oozing with conviction alongside a Stax influenced keyboard that gives a soul-tinged vibe, while the intelligent countermelodies during the alternate verses and George Harrison’s slinky lead guitar gesture to the psychedelic leanings of their middle period. It was one of the songs played during The Beatles last public performance on the roof of Apple’s Saville Row headquarters on 30th January 1969 and remains a testament to the power and inventiveness of possibly the 20th century’s defining band.

‘I’m Going Home’ – Marvin Gaye
A studio outtake from the recording sessions for Gaye’s seminal soul masterpiece What’s Going On (read why it’s a masterpiece here), ‘I’m Going Home’ took fifteen years to surface until it was featured on 1986’s  Motown Remembers Marvin Gaye and served as a reminder to the talent which had been lost only two year’s previously. In many ways, ‘I’m Going Home’ condenses a lot of What’s Going On‘s narrative themes 0f family, urban strife and homecoming into five minutes, but musically it has a lot more in common with the emerging funk sound which Gaye would explore on his following albums Let’s Get It On and I Want You. Either way, it’s an irrepressibly catchy slice of funk which should not be missed.

‘She Loves You’ – The Gaslight Anthem
Not a Beatles cover, as I initially thought it to be. ‘She Loves You’ appeared on the flip side of their vinyl-only Tumbling Dice single (their last release with SideOneDummy) and is probably Brian Fallon’s most simple and direct love song. Backed by a simple guitar figure and a shuffling beat, Fallon achingly rhapsodises about rainy nights, broken love and the small certainties that pull us inexorably towards tomorrow, like flotsam and jetsam cast ashore on the tide.

What are your favourite B-sides and rarities? Let me know in the comments below.

[Single Review]: Christian Gregory – Count On You

Christian Gregory 3“Won’t be long until we make it through.”

When success and good fortune come your way there are generally two routes people go down: cash in, or give something back. After his debut record in 2012 broke the top ten in seven countries, went certified gold in two and garnered a Mercury Prize nomination, you might have expected Michael Kiwanuka to either have rested on his laurels or sped on with album No. 2. Instead, Kiwanuka has elected to build something lasting and set up a label called Movement Records. While Kiwanuka will act as the label’s A&R man, scouting and representing new artists, the day-to-day label running and recording sessions will operate out of North London where the Movement Records team have set up a studio kitted out with a treasure trove of vintage instruments and bespoke analogue recording equipment gathered over ten years. With an emphasis on a soul-rooted sound and traditional recording techniques, as well as capturing artists live on tape in one take, Kiwanuka explains the Movement Records philosophy: “Music from the heart goes straight to the heart. Music that can move you is good music and that’s what Movement Records are focused on doing”. Their recent flagship release Count On You comes from multi-instrumentalist songwriter (and Movement Records head of operations and co-founder), Christian Gregory.

Co-written with Michael Kiwanuka, Count On You is a good time record that rolls along on a bass and percussion groove that harks back to Bill Withers’s Still Bill era. This offers a solid platform for Christian Gregory’s slinky guitarwork and hollering expression of camaraderie. His voice lies somewhere between Al Green’s high tenderness and Teddy Pendergrass’s husky confidence, taking off into flights during the revelrous choruses and psyched-out bridge. He also has a few tricks up his sleeve with departures into fuzz and wah-wah laden guitar interludes and psychedelic tinges of brass during the outro. “I love when records have details that you only notice after you’ve heard it over and over again,” Gregory reveals. “On Count On You, we recorded the core parts of the track in one take to catch a live vibe. Then I got in the studio and experimented with unusual recording techniques to add different details and textures to the track”. If Movement Records’s remit is to produce soulful tunes with an old-school production ethic then Count On You starts things as they mean to go on. It doesn’t just rock, it rolls too.

With offices on both sides of the Atlantic and as-yet unannounced live showcases and releases scheduled throughout 2014, Movement Records look set to stake their claim during 2014. And while Michael Kiwanuka himself is still signed to Polydor/Communion, it will be interesting to see if he releases his material through Movement Records in the future and what collaborations this will lead to. More importantly, with creative artists playing essential roles in the running of the company, what talent will be attracted to the label in future and will it create a collaborative atmosphere conducive to creativity, like Communion who first picked up on Kiwanuka and released his first two EPs? I certainly think Movement Records has the potential to do so.

Originally published on Hercules Moments