CD Reviews: Meek Mill, Menahan Street Band, Cody Chesnutt
'Dreams and Nightmares'
The elaborate intro to "Dreams and Nightmares," the delayed debut of Philly rapper Meek Mill, sets his gruff bark against a gauzy piano, before fluidly ramping up into a tense, unsettling autobiography of his troubled past and bright present. It's a neat shift that Kanye and others have exploited to great success, but the hook is rarely matched on this workmanlike release. Mill turns in his best work on "Traumatized," a shocking revenge track that pulses with paranoia and promises death for his father's killer.
MENAHAN STREET BAND
Drawn from some of the city's best retro acts, Brooklyn's own Menahan Street Band operates like a modern-day Funk Brothers, backing up solo stars like Charles Bradley and Sharon Jones while also laying down cuts of classic instrumental soul that make hip-hop's finest lick their chops. To say Menahan Street Band's tracks are only raw material for other artists is to miss the deep pleasures of multifaceted grooves that unwind on their own time, of hearing an ensemble cast of musicians getting in the pocket and swinging hard, and of classic music being made right before your eyes.
'Landing on a Hundred'
Ten years in the making, "The Headphone Masterpiece," the 2002 debut of Cody Chesnutt, was a 36-track behemoth that synthesized strains of hip-hop, R&B and laid-back pop into a satisfyingly off-kilter whole, in ways not done since the days of Shuggie Otis. It's taken another decade for the soul survivor to surface with another album, and it makes a good argument for more artists to simply wait for enough life to happen before setting pen to paper. As a result of hard years lives in the interim, "Hundred" is a fascinating record, even if its idea-driven protagonist has yet to fully learn the power of "no." Recorded in Memphis with a live band, this is a fine forum of ChesnuTT's smoky caramel voice, as he affirms life and love in the ways only a traveler out of the darkness can. Recommended track: "Chips Down," a tech-shucking cut that sounds like a sweet '70s hybrid of Stevie Wonder and Grandaddy.