Just in time for the Halloween season, one-time Ice-T protege Everlast drops his latest solo album “Songs of the Ungrateful Living.” Winged insects crawl across a meatless skull, which one can only assume is because the maggots got to it first. Piled up around it and underneath it on the album’s cover are detritus like a used Bic lighter and what one can only surmise is an empty whiskey bottle. On the reverse side a group of weeds and flowers growing from a pile of pennies may be Erik Schrody’s wry interpretation of the value of his career, though it’s wry only because it’s a gross underestimation.
Besides his tenure in the largely defunct hip-hop group House of Pain, which created a party anthem which still causes people to “Jump Around” at events today, his rebirth as a gruff folk singer on “La Coka Nostra clique even revived interest from some hip-hop ears who had lost interest when he switched gears and started singing more than rapping. There’s no doubt if Everlast piles his bones on a stack of career coinage the majority of them would be silver and gold.
Now Everlast can’t be said to be one of the ungrateful ones, as his singing career was kickstarted in the late 1990’s when he suffered a nearly fatal heart attack. While one has to imagine he made some changes to his diet and lifestyle as a result, his singing voice has only become rougher, deeper and gruffer over the last 13 years. Arguably some of that is just due to age, as he’s now in his 40’s, and some of that is just due to the strain of singing and touring for that entire time. Then again there are other things that can can change your throat’s inflection over time: “We can sip on tequila, and act like a fool/and wake up all the neighbors when we jump in the pool.” While it’s not even close to as rowdy as the sentiments of “Jump Around,” the vocals on “My House” give the impression that Mr. Schrody hasn’t ENTIRELY abandoned his party rap roots – and the burn of alcohol can definitely sandpaper a voicebox (as can smoking). What’s interesting is that while it can be a detriment to his singing, it adds a depth of character when he flows on “I’ll Be There For You.”
“Look at how she move, look at how she sway
Standin in her pumps and her lingerie
Comment allez-vous parlez vous francais
Don’t know how to act, don’t know what to say
Need a genie and a wish in the very worst way
And this type of ish happens eve-ry-day
Type love I feel, is so for real
So gen-uine, and so sublime
Baby workin and puttin on a show for me
Standin over me, I smell potpourri
Take you any place that you wanna go for me
Just +Come Talk to Me+ like Jodeci”
“Songs of the Ungrateful Living” is self-produced by Schrody, with a little co-production assistance from Darius Holbert. That doesn’t mean Everlast sat in a studio playing every single instrument on the album and layering all the tracks together – he’s got a live band to help him create these jams. While Schrody sings and plays guitar, Holbert handles a variety of duties from keys to banjo and pedal steel guitar. Joel Whitley plays bass, Leo Costa is on the drums, and a long list of session musicians contribute in various ways including but not limited to long-time friend DJ Lethal providing scratching when and where needed. It would arguably be more fair to call this album “Everlast and His Funky Jam Band,” though marketing and promotion reasons prevent such bald-faced honesty.
That’s a rarity for Everlast because he’s nothing but not honest in his lyrics and vocals. “If I ain’t fuckin things up, I do the very best I can” he croons on “Friday the 13th,” and that’s the charm of this gruff-voiced vocalist. Unlike fellow rapper turned singer Kid Rock, Schrody doesn’t seem to carry a chip on his shoulder of being a pop icon, despite having some of the most recognizable hits to chart in the last 20 years. Even when he’s wearing “The Crown,” it’s one sewn out of empty bags of Crown Royal, and it sits heavy and uncomfortably on his dome. It’s got an appeal in its own way, but let’s be quite frank about it, the raspy singing might be too much for even the deepest blues fan and the shades of hip-hop rhyming on these 15 songs come few and far between. There’s little doubt Everlast is grateful for his life, his career and his fans on this CD, it’s just unlikely to generate a new crossover sensation for him the way “What It’s Like” did over a decade ago.