Badly Drawn Boy Charms With Understated Folk

The lines sketched by Badly Drawn Boy are indeed rough on this debut album (due in stores Tuesday), which recently won Britain's prestigious Mercury Music Prize. Winsomely charming yet deeply affecting, it's sophisticated techno-age folk but with a homemade, low-tech feel. There's lovely chamber-pop ("The Shining"), singer-songwriter fare ("This Song" is Simon & Garfunkel beamed from the moon) and even funk-pop accents("Disillusion").

But binding it all is Manchester musician Damon Gough's earnestness and understatement, as well as a guileless, irony-free embrace of the music and themes he explores. At his most vulnerable and genteel, he's the heir of the late Nick Drake, the early-'70s English singer-songwriter whose fragile, poetic songs remain cult favorites among critics and sensitive souls today.

He never succumbs to Drake's sad solipsism, though, favoring an expansive reach emotionally and musically. Even when contemplating loneliness, Gough (who plays the Knitting Factory Hollywood on Nov. 17) seems optimistic in sort of a neo-hippie way, comparable to Cat Stevens' best. In "Camping Next to Water," he sings, "I never will grow older, because I drink from waterfalls," and he makes you hope that it's true.

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Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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