Damien Rice

Some may accuse Damien Rice of developing an über-anguished, oh-so-lovelorn repertoire as a ploy to get American college girls into bed (probably not that difficult a feat, really -- who can resist that Irish accent?), but others respond to Rice's dismay with reverence that borders on adoration. For some, Rice gives voice to the devastation experienced by their inner hopeless romantic, that little guy inside that dies a little death every time a heart gets broken.

Self-released back home in Dublin, Rice's debut, O, became a nearly instant hit. Released stateside on June 10, the album first turned heads in L.A. on KCRW's Morning Becomes Eclectic, where contemporary songcatcher Nic Harcourt's keen ear helped catapult DIY master Rice into the majors. Before Rice could catch his breath, he found himself appearing on Letterman, Late Night with Conan O'Brien and NPR's Fresh Air. Word spread of his visceral live performances, which rival those of Jeff Buckley in their ability to grab spectators by the you-know-whats and not let go. (Rice actually works an homage to Buckley into the set with a rhapsodic cover of "Hallelujah.")

What's really remarkable about Rice is his ability to improvise. Take, for instance, "Cheers Darlin," an impromptu performance given by a drunken Rice alone in the kitchen of his flat. Inspired by the events of an unlucky evening down at the pub, Rice picked up the guitar at 3 a.m., started strumming and singing, and recorded the song in one take, plinking on some glasses on the table for percussion. It's one of the most striking songs on the record, born in a moment of inebriated frustration captured forever for other losers in love to relate to.

Let's hope that Rice can escape the curse of untimely deaths that seems to rest on the heads of too many brilliant young singer-songwriters. But you should probably catch this show, just in case.

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Melanie Haupt