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Damien Rice

Love songs worth listening to

Maybe it's the rolling green hills or the constant drizzly days of life in the outskirts of Dublin. Perhaps it's the pastoral nature of County Kildare where Damien Rice grew up or simply the luck of the Irish. Maybe he's just been dumped one too many times. Whatever it may be, those of us in search of satisfying songwriting can be thankful that something inspires Rice to create beautifully wistful songs perfect for the smitten and heartbroken alike.

The pasty 29-year old singer/songwriter with the soul-searching gaze grew up in the countryside of Celbridge, Ireland, and has been making music since before he could grow facial hair. He first hit the scene with Juniper, a band he formed in high school that cut a record deal with Polygram and made it to Irish radio with a couple of indie rock singles. Citing stylistic differences, Rice bailed on the group in 1999 and after tooling around Tuscany for a while, returned to Ireland where he spent a fistful of cash on a portable 8-track.

The result is O, a self-recorded full-length that lets Rice indulge in the folk tendencies Juniper wouldn't let him explore. The ten songs are a tour of an aching heart, presumably Rice's, the emotions bleeding through lyrics sung delicately one moment with warbling fragility and soaring with pathos the next. Gentle guitar strums and graceful melodies are haunted by swelling strings and Lisa Hannigan's ethereal back-up vocals. Rice's songs are drawn out, his voice sweeping through stories of false hopes, dashed hopes and hopeful hopes.

Truth be told, Rice doesn't offer an original angle on the sensitive folk singer. He sounds like someone you've heard before, most likely David Gray or any number of other earnest singer-songwriter types. The sap factor is high but Rice gets away with lyrics sung so charmingly that your instinct to cringe melts into endeared acceptance. Take for instance the lilting chorus of "Cannonball"; "Love/ Taught me to lie/ Life/ Taught me to die" and later- "Love/ Taught me to cry". But the heartstring melody and the sincerity of the vocals make it okay. His songs are undeniably pretty and fondness for them sneaks up on you like the memory of an ex. You'll wind up humming Rice's tender tunes much like you may suddenly find yourself in the midst a late-night poring over of old journals and dusty photographs. Both evoke a bittersweet reminiscence.

Rice has quite a few high-profile fans including Brittany Spears, whose attendance of his performance in Los Angeles with Colin Farrell, is speculated to have spawned their heavily photographed make-out session. And if the thumbs up from a thong-bearing, Madonna-kissing pop diva isn't enough to pique your curiosity, perhaps Rice's place on Rolling Stone's recent "10 Artists to Watch" list will.

Rice wears his heart on his guitar strings and it's definitely a heart worth listening to.