Damien Rice may be the feel-baddest balladeer to find a wide audience since Volkswagen revived Nick Drake. Like his countryman David Gray, Rice specializes in putting the cold, wet feeling of Irish winter onto 2-inch tape and has a similar, if more astringent, vocal style. But Rice's music is a stranger brew--at times, his songs have the startling directness of Elliott Smith, and when he gets out of the coffeehouse and into weirder musical back alleyways, he grabs hold of a sound genuinely beautiful and new. The best songs on O, the sleeper hit album of 2003, throw dissonant string crescendoes and ruptured production into the mix. Live, playing in a more stripped-down, acoustic style, Rice's compelling intensity and throaty melodics make up for the album's lack of ambition in the arrangements. He'll bring you down in style.
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