Damien Rice may be the feel-baddest balladeer to find a wide audience since Volkswagen revived Nick Drake. Like his countryman David Gray, Rice specializes in putting the cold, wet feeling of Irish winter onto two-inch tape and has a similar, if more astringent, vocal style. But Rice's music is a stranger brew -- at times, his songs have the startling directness of Elliott Smith, and when he gets out of the coffeehouse and into weirder musical back alleyways, he grabs hold of a sound genuinely beautiful and new. The best songs on O
, the sleeper hit album of 2003, throw dissonant string crescendos and ruptured production into the mix. Live, in a more stripped-down, acoustic style, Rice's compelling intensity and throaty melodics make up for the album's lack of ambition in the arrangements. He'll bring you down in style.