Radio and word of mouth are probably the two biggest ways I learn about new music. I’m a satellite radio subscriber, and it’s nice to put on whatever genre I feel like that day, or be reminded of classics, or pick up some new stuff I’d never heard before. There are also a handful of people who I know I can trust their music input, and I’ll give their recommendations a go. Today’s artist caught my ear in a totally unique way—because of all things, a movie soundtrack.
Damien Rice is a 40-year-old folk rock singer/songwriter from Kildare, Ireland. He started as part of a rock group in the early 90s, but only saw modest success. It wasn’t until he branched out into a solo career where people would start to take notice. His music caught my ear when I watched the film ‘Closer’ starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law. The track ‘The Blowers Daughter’ was heavily featured in the film, and it was not only perfect for the scenes, but it was such a hauntingly beautiful song. While that track is not on the record I’m going to discuss today, I would highly recommend checking that song out today (it’s in my top 25 of all time).
Instead we focus on Rice’s sophomore effort, 9. It was released in November of 2006, and is a platinum album in the UK. Unlike most of the albums I’ve reviewed to date, this album was over two years in the making. Between touring and time spent supporting various world causes, Rice simply didn’t have time to get into the studio and get this album recorded. He also wanted to release only one studio album—and retire from music. Of course the popularity of his first was so great, the record company eventually convinced him to make this one. He’s commented that even though it took such a long time, he wished he’d have taken half the tracks off this record and written new songs – and that the album isn’t as good as it could have been.
His music is a sound that is very uncommon these days. It’s sort of a throwback to the folk singers of the 50s and 60s—but modernized with the accompanying background sound. Rice heavily uses violin, bass, cello in his music, and even clarinet and a Wurlitzer organ. The attention to detail with in production is second to none. Combine that with his outstanding vocal abilities, and you have some amazing potential to make music. He moves away from his acoustic signature a couple times here, but overall, it’s a very good record. I won’t disagree some things could be cleaned up, but all in all, it’s worth a listen.
The hardest part about being an artist who will write thoughtful, melodic tracks, is doing it without making an incredibly sappy, sad record. Sometimes this album turns into one less about the lyrics and style, and more about the outstanding arrangements and vocals. There is a lot of raw emotion coming from this album (and you’ll note it does have an “explicit” warning so it’s not one for the kids), and it ranges from anger to apathy. But from start to finish, it’s believable. And I think that’s what takes it out of the sappy category, and into the world of true folk rock.
There is no question Rice is a talented musician. This album may not be his best foot forward, but it has moments of greatness. It’s sort of a ‘drift away’ album, in the sense I picture lying on a beach, putting my headphones on and losing myself in my surroundings. If you put 9 on today and find yourself intrigued, certainly check out his first album, as I think it’s everything this album is and more.