B&E: Ari Hest

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Profiling acts breaking at radio and/or retail and entering Billboard's charts.

STEPPING UP TO THE PLATE: New York's Cornell University may never know what it missed in a baseball player, but the musical world is benefiting from former collegiate Ari Hest's choice to stick to his guitar.

"I got to the night before tryouts and realized that I was never going to be a major league baseball player and getting up at 6 a.m. to do wind sprints wasn't what I wanted to be doing," says the singer/songwriter/Yankees fan.

After four years of touring the college circuit, Hest hits the big leagues with his major label debut, "Someone to Tell" (Columbia/RED Ink). The set includes remastered versions of previously self-released material as well as new songs that Hest calls "better than the ones I'd done in the past."

He surmises that's the case, "because I think I'm starting to let my band get involved. I'm not trying to write every song as if it's just me and the guitar and that's a big step for me."

With the quiet Internet success of 2001's full-length "Come Home" and last year's follow-up "Story After Story" -- both released on his own Project 4 Records label -- it's fitting that his major label bow raises the bar with a No. 19 entry on Billboard's Top Internet Album Sales chart this week.

The album's buoyant opening "They're On To Me" breaks up the consistent huskiness of the singer's baritone with clear falsetto peaks. Hest -- who wrote the track while afraid of losing a job -- says he chose it as the first single because "it was catchy, upbeat and I think people can relate to being paranoid."

"Story After Story" producer David Rolfe joined Hest again in the studio for the 12-song set, which ranges from the road-ready romp "Aberdeen" to the plaintive "Anne Marie." Hest names the latter as one of his more personal songs, one that is "naturally played with a little more emotion."

Hest's former touring buddies in Guster were an inspiration for the artist, who had reservations of giving up the indie life. "I have a lot of respect for the way they held out and gained a following before signing to a label," he says. "They had a lot of experience when they got their chance and were ready for the action."

Hest will join Dave Matthews Band, Jason Mraz and Jem at George, Wash.'s The Gorge Amphitheater for a few dates in September to be followed by a national small club tour.

Artist site: arihest.com
Label site: columbiarecords.com