Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice started out in 1997 in a band called Juniper, which was signed to a major deal but fell apart before it could make a full album. Shortly after that, Rice hit the road as a solo artist. His first album, 2003's O, introduced the world to a hushed, gentle voice conveying melodic, emotive songs centered around simple acoustic arrangements. The record became a hit both in Europe and in the U.S., traditionally a tough market for new U.K. artists to crack.
Damien Rice's intriguing brand of stylishly, un-styled dirty folk music has made him one of the standout artists of 2003. O was first released in Ireland, where it quickly broke the top ten, and achieved triple-platinum status. Slim hard-back digipak. Vector. 2003.
Irish troubadour Damien Rice doesn't so much reinvent the folk genre on this lush, impossibly mature debut album as push its boundaries in several compelling musical directions at once--all the more remarkable considering the album was largely self-produced and home-recorded. His songs revolve around familiar, bittersweet concerns of life, love, and their attendant frustrations, but delivered with conspiratorial intimacy on melodic wings (like on the graceful "Cannonball") that Rice seems almost embarrassed to share. If there's anything like a template here, it's "The Blower's Daughter," the song that first attracted the interest/stewardship of film composer David Arnold (whose guest production provides "Amie" with expansive cinematic elegance) and became a massive Irish hit. His plaintive vocal, embroidered by the mournful solo cello of Vyvienne Long, is suddenly brightened by an instrumental flourish and Lisa Hannigan's vocals--before just as quickly wafting on the breeze. With touches that range from "Day in the Life"-styled string collages to the dizzy, exhilarating neo-operatic excesses of the 16-minute "Eskimo," Rice's musical palate here is as adventurous as his songs are grounded in emotional intimacy. --Jerry McCulley