Eat at Whitey's (Tommy Boy 1411)
Early on in the thumping, cello-flavored "Whitey," Everlast assures us that the pop success he had with his last album, "Whitey Ford Sings the Blues," isn't going to make him turn his back on hip-hop. "What? You thought I stopped rhyming/Because I started singing?" he taunts, then adds, "You rollin' with the one that rocks the most."
Everlast "rocks the most" on his new album, "Eat at Whitey's," because he rocks in both senses, drawing both from the guitar-driven sound of rock and roll as well as the rock-the-house attitude of hip-hop. But unlike such rock/rap successes as Rage Against the Machine or Limp Bizkit, Everlast is moving from rap to rock, and that lends an entirely different flavor to his music.
"Babylon Feeling," for instance, is built around a moody minor-key guitar pattern that could have come from any of a dozen '70s hard rock bands, and even boasts some bluesy interjections by Carlos Santana. But the drum-machine beat driving the track is pure hip-hop, and that's the central reference point for everything else on the track. So when the album shifts into straight-up hip-hop for "Deadly Assassins" (with guest B-Real of Cypress Hill), the music feels the same even though the sonic contours are different.
Where Everlast really shows his stuff, though, is on his remake of Slick Rick's classic "Children's Story." It helps that the track boasts a richly textured, rhythmically insistent rhythm bed, mixing blues guitar, chattering and old-school human beat box.
But what ultimately snares the listener is the soulful inflection Everlast brings to the vocal. Coming on like a cross between Tom Waits and Coolio, he manages to make the rap feel more like a blues, and in so doing brings an urgency and wit to the tale that even the original fails to convey.
It's that raw, gutsy quality that makes "Eat at Whitey's" a step beyond both Everlast's rap recordings and "Whitey Ford Sings the Blues." Never mind that Everlast has larded the album with cameos by a host of high-profile guest vocalists, ranging from rappers Cee-Lo and Kurupt to singers Merry Clayton and N'Dea Davenport; the fact that he has developed a sound so powerful and distinctive keeps the spotlight on Everlast, from the romantic melancholy of "Black Coffee" to the doomy stomp of "We're All Gonna Die."
It's enough to make you ask for seconds. ***
Vapor Transmission (Elementree/Reprise 47832)
According to most rock and roll mythology, electric guitars are hot and passionate, while synthesizers are cold and intellectual. Industrial music argues otherwise, however, and on "Vapor Transmission" Orgy unleashes a synth-based sound that makes the group seem as crunchy and aggressive as any thrash band. It isn't just that such songs as "Suckerface" and "Re-creation" are drenched in distortion; the bone-crunching backbeat driving "Opticon" adds as much edge to the music as the electronics. Still, as much as Jay Gordon's chilled, disaffected vocals play up the anomie in these songs, it's hard not to wish that Orgy would ladle a little more melody on these songs. **1/2
The Captain (Asylum 47823)
Roots music is often seen as harking back to the music of one's parents and grandparents, but that isn't always the case. Kasey Chambers, for instance, may sound as gritty as a fourth-generation Okie, but she actually hails from Australia, and that makes the down-home feel permeating "The Captain" a pleasant surprise, indeed. Chambers is aware that she's something of an anomaly - "I'm not like my generation/Their music only hurts my ears," she sings on "Cry Like a Baby" - but there's nothing artificial or affected about her songs. If anything, there's an honesty and openness to "Southern Kind of Life" and the title tune that suggests roots music is more a state of mind than a matter of heritage. ***1/2
The Quincy Jones-Sammy Nestico Orchestra
Basie & Beyond (Qwest 47792)
Back before he became famous for producing Michael Jackson and "We Are the World," Quincy Jones made his name as a big-band arranger, writing for the Count Basie Orchestra and others. But there was more than nostalgia at work when Jones teamed up with fellow Basie alumnus Sammy Nestico to form the Quincy Jones-Sammy Nestico Orchestra. There is a sophistication and intelligence to jazz composition that simply isn't found elsewhere in popular music these days, and Jones and Nestico exploit it to the fullest on "Basie & Beyond." A mixture of recent and vintage compositions, the album boasts both first-rate arrangements and all-star soloists (including Bill Watrous, Hubert Laws, Oscar Brashear and Ernie Watts). Even better, it retains the classic qualities of swing while updating the rhythmic feel of tunes like "The Joy of Cookin'." Who says big-band jazz is dead? ****