CODY CHESNUTT The Headphone Masterpiece (One Little Indian)

theheadphonemasterpiece.jpg (16596 bytes)Atlanta native Cody ChesnuTT (and yes, you have to shout the Ts, apparently) used to be in a band called The Crosswalk, until they collapsed amid record company acrimony after recording their first and only album. Cody retired to his bedroom, channelling his life experiences onto 4 track using a variety of instruments, and the not immodestly titled "The Headphone Masterpiece" is the result. And, in parts at least, it's marvellous.

Think of the all-seeing sprawl of albums like "Wu Tang Forever" or "The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill", refracted through the primitive trickery of something like Eric Alexandrakis' "I.V. Catatonia". Add a love of the music of Sly Stone, Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield, and a deep understanding of what makes great studio-tanned solo voyagers tick (for example The Beatles circa 1968, Prince in his prime, the Todd Rundgren of "Something/Anything"). Squeeze these disparate elements together and they might take a similar form to "The Headphone Masterpiece"'s 36-tune "Sandinista"-matching splurge.

A few random delights: "Boylife In America" finds ChesnuTT using his Curtis Mayfield falsetto to subvert hip-hop's traditional machismo, its protagonist living with his mother and dreaming of a lottery win. "Serve This Royalty" plays like a bleak, anti-materialism tract that, synthesised percussion aside, could have fallen off the "Superfly" soundtrack. Warm and witty, "The Seed" is, superficially at least, an ode to fatherhood and commitment also to be found on the latest Roots album, although their version is unlikely to carry the same booming, distorted and crackly lo-fi charm demonstrated here. Elsewhere are a scatter of whimsical Beck-like acoustic pieces ("Out Of Nowhere", "My Women, My Guitars", "Eric Burdon") and oddities such as "Somebody's Parent", which explores the effect of (legal) substance withdrawal on a family, a subject not within the traditional remit of popular music. "Daddy's Baby" is Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" stripped bare of saccharine, whilst the power chord-strafed "If We Don't Disagree" is a sly nod to stadium rock.

If there's anything not right with "The Headphone Masterpiece" it must be that, at nearly 110 minutes, there's almost too much of it, especially as ChesnuTT's well of inspiration doesn't quite remain damp for the entire trip. And there's the occasional suggestion that he hasn't quite got his philosophy together yet - "Bitch, I'm Broke", "Brother With An Ego", "War Between The Sexes" - although, given the copious thanks to God and Lord Jesus in the booklet I'd happily accept any argument that he's exposing, rather than reinforcing, traditional stereotypes. Otherwise, though, this is a fine treat from an unexpected source: the broader your musical tastes, the more delight you'll extract from it.