Dylan Rice: Wandering Eyes

I don’t think I’m going to be objective with this review.

Dylan Rice was listed in the Advocate’s Top 10 Indie Artists of 2005, and when I went to his official web site, I immediately thought, "Wow. He’s cute." Then I played an MP3 sample of his music, and I thought, "Wow. He can sing.". Then I downloaded his debut album Wandering Eyes from eMusic, and I thought, "Wow. He can write."

Man, if there were ever a turn-on for me …

Thing is, Rice is a singer-songwriter. I live in Austin, Texas, a magnet for a singer-songwriters. I’ve been subjected to a lot of mediocre stuff over the years, and I’ve become impatient with them.

So Rice must be doing something right to make me like Wandering Eyes as much as I do.

First, there’s his voice. He’s got a rich baritone somewhere between a croon and a honky-tonk twang. In gay parlance, it would be described as "butch".

But even a voice as simultaneously strong and vulnerable as Rice’s wouldn’t come across as remarkable without the material to highlight it.

The myriad of copyright dates plastered on the CD cover indicates Rice has taken a long time to reach the tightness of his debut. It also makes me hesitant to think of that old industry pitfall — five years to make a debut, two years to make a follow-up.

We’ll worry about that later — for now, Wandering Eyes does an incredible job introducing audiences to the one-two sucker punch of Rice’s talent.

He’s got big hooks, and an expert band that knows the material inside-out. Wandering Eyes has a strong, full sound that would be dynamic in a live setting.

Most importantly, Rice doesn’t shy away from speaking to a gay man’s experience.

"I took you home and you took my heart away", he sings on "Barely Knew You". "Some dancefloor hookup and I wanted you to stay." Now doesn’t that describe weekend nights at a gay bar.

"I Do & I Don’t" examines the quandry of infidelity, of how a cheated party can simultaneous want and not want to know about the "other" man. This song could be played straight, but the spurned lover lyrics wouldn’t really sound the same.

"Lucky to Need You" teeters on the brink of overearnesty, but Rice’s confessional lyrics are tough to ignore. "So I engaged in risky behavior/Tripping the orgy scene/Boys are dying tonight/From this kind of thing."

A strong voice and some muscular songwriting — Dylan Rice already had the prerequisites to earn my appreciation.

But then he had to turn out all hot and stuff, thereby forcing me to second guess my opinion. Am I writing a good review in the hopes I can live out a groupie dream? Or am I writing a good review because he deserves it?

The evidence leans more toward the latter.