In the music world today, singer/songwriters are a dime a dozen. Most of them sing well, but play guitar and write lyrics (if they write them at all) poorly. Then there is Conor Oberst, who writes fantastically but lacks in singing. Who would have thought the country of Ireland would produce the man who can do both in a genre that has been Americanized to hell? Regardless of nationality, Damien Rice has an excellent voice and plays the guitar well. His lyrics are not the greatest, but they surpass the general mainstream ability of writing.
The album O, his first full length release, showcases a mastery of the simplicity of the acoustic indie genre of music. Most songs feature Damien, his guitar, a brush drum kit, and an upright bass. String sections float overtop here and there, and vocalist Lisa Hannigan joins in for a few songs. The instrumental ability of Damien and his studio musicians is superb, and it makes perfect background music for Damien to spin his stories.
No song on the album better shows the simplicity of O than Cannonball. The song is only Damien and his guitar. The guitar plays the main vocal line along with some strumming underneath before Damien comes in. His voice comes in a bit timidly, but through time, he gains more and more strength to his voice. This works well stylistically and works well with the lyrics. During his timid sections, he's singing reflective lyrics, but when he picks up and brings more strength, the lyrics "Stones taught me to fly, love taught me to lie" is a sort of realization for him. The song follows the same verse chorus format throughout, but the chorus lines change a bit in the last reprise. Cannonball is definitely a standout track on the album.
Another standout, Volcano, is probably the most accessible and poppiest song on the album. Lisa Hannigan joins him in this song and even takes a verse herself. Also, a cello, upright bass, and drum set accompany the two singers. The two spin their stories of love and partners wanting something different from them. Nothing fancy happens in the song and all one is left to focus on is the singing and the lyrics. This song could easily reach the top 20 in the Billboard charts. It's accessible and catchy, but it's also good. Who would've thought?
The next track, the Blower's Daughter is another great song. Most of the song is only Damien, but a cello joins in on the chorus when he sings "I can't take my eyes off of you,"and also joins in the buildup to the chorus, humming the chord tones underneath the guitar. The guitar picks up some steam in the second verse and strums a little heavier. Once again, it is Damien' style to take things and build them up as the song progresses. Lisa Hannigan sings in the bridge with a heavenly voice. Damien changes the lyrics in the last chorus to "I can't take my mind off of you." He does this in many of his songs, another stylistic tendency of him.
The last real standout on the CD is Cold Water. Cold Water starts with piano with a slow delay effect. Then Damien and some faint guitar enter, showcasing Damien's best vocals on the album. His timid cry of "Lord, can you hear now?"puts out his falsetto very well. Once again, Lisa Hannigan takes the second verse, taking the song into a woman's perspective. A deep men's choir takes a bridge after Lisa's verse and chorus. Damien repeats his lyrics from the first verse while Lisa sings "Cold water" above him. There is a beautiful buildup that leads to a release of muttering of Damien and Lisa with cello playing above. Then the choir finishes off the song with beautiful chords and slowly grows and pushes to the end of the song.
O shows promise to the singer/songwriter genre that is becoming infested with sub par artists. Damien's simplicity makes his music accessible and his songs tell stories that someone actually might enjoy listening to. You get the sense of an impoverished Irish town from his music, and that relationships are the only thing you can find yourself rich in.
The Blower's Daughter