The emotions Damien Rice sings about on his debut, o, are by no means new, but the intensity of his impassioned voice almost makes you believe he’s the first human being ever to feel the sting of lost love. When he asks, “If it means nothing to you, why’d you stay with me at all?” in the album’s opener, “Delicate,” he delivers those last five words with such breathy, belabored passion that they sound like they’re killing him. And if his voice alone doesn't make you melt, his songwriting will. One moment he lulls you with hushed vocals and the simple strumming of an acoustic guitar, and the next he raises his voice to a chill-inducing crescendo with the aid of emotive strings, warm bass, crisp percussion and the beautiful voice of collaborator Lisa Hannigan.
No matter how grand the arrangement, the album maintains a captivatingly intimate feel. Credit this partly to expert production and engineering—not in the sense of being polished and perfect, but quite the opposite. The performances sound so raw and real that if you threw a little crowd noise in the background, you’d have a hard time convincing anyone it wasn’t recorded live in some Irish pub. The immediacy of the music perfectly complements Rice’s amazing singing and lovelorn lyrics. And this is just his debut. (photo by Robbie Fry)