Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.
Listening to emerging Irish singer/songwriter Damien Rice outline how his career has blossomed during the past year, it's tough to deny the many similarities to David Gray and the path of his breakthrough album, "White Ladder."
Not only are there peripheral similarities between Rice and Gray -- their work is mostly built on an acoustic guitar, they share the same management, etc. -- but the birth and growth of the newcomer's debut, "O," mirrors the fabled beginnings of Gray's 1999 album.
Both mark new musical approaches, new directions partially born out of each artist's frustrations with the music business.
Gray, without a label for the third time in roughly as many years, retreated to his English basement and began experimenting with drum machines, beats, and loops for the first time. Career-wise, he had nothing left to lose and everything to gain.
As a member of little-known band Juniper, Rice scored a deal with PolyGram Ireland in the mid-1990s. Yet after being pressured by his management to come up with more uptempo, radio-ready singles, he left the group, disillusioned and disappointed with the experience.
A few years later, after some extensive traveling throughout Europe, Rice -- also with everything to gain -- returned home and began writing "O." The set is being issued June 10 in the U.S. through Ken Levitan and Jack Rovner's new Vector Recordings label.
The buzz on both records began in Ireland. "White Ladder" was a full-fledged hit there and was building in the U.K. long before it neared platinum status in the U.S.
Since its February 2002 release in Ireland, "O" (issued on Rice's own DRM label and distributed by Ritz) has been certified double-platinum in that country for sales of more than 30,000 copies and it is heating up in the U.K. After being issued last summer through 3MV, "O" was recently re-released in the U.K. with distribution through Warner Bros.
The songs on "O," Rice says, originate from "a complete focus, an almost blinding, passionate focus on something that I didn't quite have or didn't quite understand or couldn't quite attain or hadn't quite attained at that point."
They're perhaps strung together by confusion, he says. "'The Blower's Daughter,' for example, is this obsession with somebody I just couldn't get to communicate enough with to get to a point of understanding of what was going on ... I don't know if I was actually falling in love with the person or if I was just obsessed, enchanted maybe."
Making the songs that much more moving is the potent contrast of Rice's vocals with those of his angel-voiced singing companion, Lisa Hannigan.
Rice just wrapped a short slate of California dates, and will play New York on June 11. The night before that show, he is scheduled to appear June 10 on CBS' "The Late Show With David Letterman." Along with a June 29 performance at the Glastonbury festival, Rice has a smattering of European gigs scheduled throughout the summer. For full information, visit his official Web site.
Excerpted from the June 7, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the Billboard.com Premium Services section.
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