Monday, October 30, 2006

Funnel Cloud – Hem

Last summer my daughter Bethany saw Hem in concert in Atlanta. They shared a bill with Bethany’s favorite band, Over the Rhine and Bethany was so impressed that she told me that I needed to listen to Hem. I did and I was also very impressed - so much that I went out and bought their new album, Funnel Cloud.

Hem is a band that almost defies description. They have country instrumentation but don’t play country music. Their singer, Sally Ellyson, has a deep beautiful voice that she uses in a very quiet manner. The band sounds like what a country band from New York City might sound like – sophisticated and hip. Ellyson seldom sings loudly and even when she does her voice still has a gentle, quiet tone which fits the tone of the music exactly right. The songs on their latest album, Funnel Cloud, themselves are pleasant enough and a few of them are downright beautiful but Hem’s songs can seem to run together. Their sound is so distinctive that I often have a hard time remembering which song is which. (Listening in the car and on my iPod doesn’t help – I really ought to sit with headphones and the liner notes but the day when I had the time for that seems to have passed.) This was also true of their previous album, Eveningland, which featured a wonderful version of Johnny Cash and June Carter’s “Jackson,” slowed down and done as a solo (instead of a duet) and turned into a wonderful slow ballad.

I'm probably being a little too hard on the songs. They really are very nice and have some wonderful hooks and lyrics but their sound is so distinctive that I have a hard time thinking of the songs - I'm so busy listening the way the songs sound – and what a sound it is. The range of instrumentation from guitar and piano to oboe and cello and pedal steel guitar helps turn each song into a thoughtful, evocative and stirring piece of music. I’m unsure if I like Eveningland or Funnel Cloud better – they are almost like two sides of the same album. Either way, Hem is a band worth checking out. I hope I get to see them in concert some time.

Sample the album on iTunes here or go to their myspace page or their webpage. They even have a podcast.

No comments: