is the remarkable must-hear debut album from Dublin-born dreamer and troubadour Damien Rice. Like compatriot David Kitt
, Rice is evidently a major talent, one of a select breed of loosely-affiliated modernist folk artists for whom the words "traditional" and "singer-songwriter" are hindering terminological obstacles that need to be blown clean out the way for the sake of progress. Adorned with unexpected musical twists, pleasures and textures--particularly Lisa Hannigan's fragile vocal accompaniment and Vyvienne Long's sonorous cello--O
's strengths lie not only in the quality of the songs--songs that could easily withstand the thrill-free "unplugged" process--but the free-thinking adventurism that decrees that segments of operatically sung Inuit (on "Eskimo") and drowsy God-like Gregorian chants (on the truly touching "Cold Water", probably a rumination on drowning involving a discourse between a dying father, daughter and the big man in the sky) should not be off-limits on pop records.
There are moments, too, of both unfettered savagery--"I Remember" begins with Lisa Halligan's yearning thoughts on a relationship before exploding with Damien Rice's retort, a vein-bulging riot of choleric rising to a climax of discordant strings reminiscent of "A Day in the Life") and embittered, self-pity--the doleful "Cheers Darlin", with its forlorn jazzy clarinet, clinking glasses and background cocktail piano. However, for those reluctant to march with the pace of change, the delightful likes of "The Blower's Daughter" and the Nick Drake-flavoured "Amie" (with a sweetly foliating string arrangement from Rice's second-cousin, the renowned composer David Arnold) offer a more relaxed route in to Damien Rice's strangely compelling world. --Kevin Maidment