EVERLAST, "WHITE TRASH
BEAUTIFUL" (ISLAND/DEF JAM) [three stars]
The evolution of Everlast
from leader of the Irish gangsta rap crew House of Pain to a modern hip-hop
incarnation of Johnny Cash still seems incomprehensible to many listeners
who first heard him on the hit "Jump Around," then barely recognized him
when he linked up with Carlos Santana for "Put Your Lights On." But it seems
like a natural evolution to the former Erik Schrody.
"When I was 20, I found rap and it was a form of rebellion" is how the
artist explains his metamorphosis. "Now I'm reaching back to the things I
shunned because it was my parents' music." With "White Trash Beautiful,"
Everlast continues the merger of rap with acoustic blues, gritty country and
folkie rock that began on "Whitey Ford Sings the Blues" (1998) and continued
with "Eat at Whitey's" (2000), creating a soundscape where Cash and Neil
Young jam with Chuck D. and KRS-One.
Inspired by a failed relationship, Everlast lays bare the sensitive soul
hiding behind that gruff exterior and hoarse baritone in songs such as
"Sleeping Alone" and "This Kinda Lonely," a braver move for any rapper than
bragging about being a thug. And he shows a novelist's eye on the title
track and first single, telling a John Mellencamp-like tale of a pregnant
waitress and her truck-drivin' man ("Trailer park queen/She slings hash
at the diner from 11 to 5... White trash beautiful/Somethin' you should
know/ My heart belongs to you").
As with the similarly genre-straddling Kid Rock, one suspects a fair
amount of calculated opportunism in the persona Everlast has invented for
himself. But that's nothing new in pop music, and when the formula is as
appealing as his and the songs contain more genuine emotion than posing,
there's absolutely no reason to complain.
THE BETA BAND, "HEROES TO ZEROS" (EMI) [three stars]
Fans of trippy popsters the Beta Band have been waiting for years for the
Scottish quartet to top the intoxicating rush of "Dry the Rain," the
standout track from 1998's "The 3 EPs" (the debut album that packaged three
earlier releases) and the head-turning anthem on the generally excellent
soundtrack for the 2000 film "High Fidelity."
The band seemed rushed and uninspired on its second self-titled album,
and it sacrificed melody to atmosphere on 2001's muddled "Hot Shots II,"
failures that may have inspired the title of its new disc. But in addition
to standing as the group's most impressive production yet (with Radiohead
guru Nigel Godrich giving us some of the bounciest Beatlesesque brass since
The Teardrop Explodes), "Heroes to Zeros" marks a welcome return to form.
No, singer Steve Mason and his cohorts still haven't come up with another
"Dry the Rain." But the first single "Assessment" is charmingly slippery
psychedelic pop, and while mellower tracks such as "Wonderful" and
"Troubles" are lush, lulling, mysterious but absurdly melodic and -- in
keeping with these fellows' marijuana-scented mind-set -- wonderfully