"Someone to Tell"

Columbia/Red Ink

"Someone to Tell," the title of Ari Hest's major label debut, takes on new meaning about halfway through the album when it becomes clear that this young New York-bred tunesmith views songwriting as a form of psychotherapy. Or if he doesn't, he's kidding himself.

Even the opening tracks point in that direction, what with Hest sounding deeply paranoiac on "They're on to Me," then crawling toward the end of a nightmarish tunnel on "A Fond Farewell." On the latter ballad, he ultimately says, "Goodbye to those sleepless nights / Those corridors with no end in sight / A driven man with these words I write / I'm making peace with my soul tonight."

Tomorrow's another day, however, and on subsequent tunes Hest returns to the fray, confronting his fears and baring his soul on some of the album's best songs, including "Anne Marie," "Strangers Again" and, finally, the album's title track. Some of the tunes may bring to mind John Mayer, sans the unintelligible phrasing, and Dave Matthews's influence is unmistakable on the rhythmically kinetic "Consistency." But oddly, Hest's soulful croon and haunted tales are distinctive enough to suggest something that often seems beyond his reach here: a bright future.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Wednesday at the Birchmere with Toby Lightman. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Ari Hest, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8109. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)