I first experienced Hem's music by hearing them open for Josh Ritter. To be completely honest, I wasn't entirely sold on them at the time. The set was a little bit of a downer for me (it felt a little depressing), and the highlight of their performance, in my opinion, was their cover of Johnny and June Carter Cash's Jackson. Regardless, what I was impressed by though was their amazing mastery of a wide range of instruments, and Sally Ellyson's enchantingly beautiful voice.
So, when their soon to be released (September 5th) album Funnel Cloud came to me in the mail, I was somewhat eager to give them another chance. Many times I've been engrossed with an artist's album but not their live performance or, on the other hand, impressed with an artist's stage presence but been disappointed with the studio album. Perhaps this would be such a case. And in fact, it was.
I've always considered myself an open soul to new music, but lately I've found myself being drawn more to music with country / folksy / traditional Americana roots. As I noticed seeing Hem live, the group is an amazing pool of talent. Any band that can boast of an oboe, English horn, glockenspiel, and euphonium (what exactly is an euphonium?) deserves some props in my book. Hem embraces and celebrates these traditional instruments while still performing music that has a contemporary feel to it.
And then there is Sally Ellyson. Her voice is the thread that unites all of the many instruments into a cohesive sound. If I was forced to make a comparison, the names Carole King and Joni Mitchell come to mind, although I think Sally's voice is a little sweeter. It's amazing to think about considering the fact that the band found Sally through a newspaper ad after she submitted a tape of her singing lullabies!
And now to return to my initial objection. I still would not consider Hem's music anything I would play after winning the lottery. I would say that it is pensive and emotionally experienced music. There are no songs about puppy love here; instead there are songs about meeting your true love (He Came to Meet Me) and lost love (Great Houses of New York). There are no catchy phrases, no forced rhymes; instead there are songs that speak to true life.
Hem - He Came to Meet Me : Funnel Cloud
Hem - Not California : Funnel Cloud
(perhaps my favorite track on the album)
Hem - I'll Dream Of You Tonight : Funnel Cloud