Saying that Everlast showed a great deal of artistic growth between his first and second solo albums would be a understatement. While 1989/1990's Forever Everlasting was a decent, if uneven, debut, Everlast's second solo album, Whitey Ford Sings the Blues, is an amazingly eclectic gem that finds him really pushing himself creatively. Between those two albums, Everlast joined and left House of Pain, which evolved into one of the most distinctive rap groups of the 1990s. While Pain's albums thrived on wildness for its own sake, Whitey Ford has a much more introspective and serious tone. Everlast, who was born with a heart defect, was in the process of recording the album when he needed life-saving open-heart surgery; in fact, he was lucky that he was around to see Whitey Ford completed and released. Though not without its share of hardcore b-boy rap, Whitey Ford also finds Everlast playing acoustic guitar, doing some singing, and exploring folk-rock, Memphis soul, and heavy metal. As a singer, Everlast has a relaxed style that sounds a bit like Gil Scott-Heron. "Today (Watch Me Shine)," "Ends," and "What It's Like" venture into Neil Young/Bob Dylan territory, while "Hot to Death" is blistering metal with industrial touches. And the plot thickens -- on "The Letter," he raps over a jazz-influenced piano. Given how rap's hardcore tends to frown on rappers crossing over to rock, it took guts for Everlast to be so diverse. But it's a good thing that he did, for his risk-taking pays off handsomely on this outstanding release.