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Hem


Country of origin:

U.S.

Type of music generally:

Acoustic, folk, Americana

Status:

Most recent release, The World Is Outside (EP, 2014)

See also:

Hem's site

Wikipedia's entry on Hem

Steve Curtis is also in the duo Little Silver

Comparisons:

Cowboy Junkies, Innocence Mission, Robin Holcomb

Covers/own material:

Own and traditional

General comments:

Hem is a Brooklyn-based quartet that weaves "traditional American music with more of a contemporary aesthetic." (JoAnn Whetsell)

Comments about live performance:

Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Hem play in St. Louis, at Blueberry Hill, in the Duck Room. This is the place where Chuck Berry plays every month. The stage is probably in around 15-30'. Not very big, but more than enough room for your standard 3-5 piece band. Hem defied the laws of stage physics, and had 10 members on the stage, including a harp, violin, and clarinet.
     I had seen Hem two times before, but they had never come sporting 10 members. It was an amazing show. Haunting and beautiful. They performed mainly songs from their new CD Funnel Cloud, but also pulled out some fan favorites from their previous releases. They put on one of the most solid shows I have seen. Everything is so perfect. The timing, the sound, the mood. It's all amazing. (9/25/06, Wade)

I saw Hem for the first time on the 10th, in Seattle. It was a great show, but we didn't have violin or harp! There were 7 or 8 people on stage playing keyboards, drums, mandolin, bass, and several kinds of guitars, as well as Sally and her unborn child (I guess he would be person 8 or 9). The drummer was borrowed from Ollabelle (the opening act), and Amy Helm (also of Ollabelle) sang along with Sally on "Too Late to Turn Back Now." (She also sings on the album version.) They played mostly songs from Funnel Cloud, of course, but managed to play just about all of my favorite songs from Rabbit Songs and Eveningland including "Half Acre" and "Carry Me Home." It was a great show, not very different from the studio versions, but wonderful to hear live as that always has a different energy. (9/30/06, JoAnn Whetsell)

Recommended first album:

Rabbit Songs

Recordings:


Rabbit Songs

Release info:

2001—Bar None Records—BRN-CD-131

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sally Ellyson—vocals
Steve Curtis—guitars, mandolin, backup vocals
Gary Maurer—guitars, mandolin
Dan Messé—piano, harmonium, glockenspiel, backup vocals

Guest artists:

Mark Brotter—drums
Catherine Popper—double bass
Ronit Kirchman—violin
Sarah Faulkner—backup & duet vocals
Bob Hoffnar—pedal steel
Ed Malave—violin, viola
Mary Wooten—cello
David Hattner—clarinet, bass clarinet
Patti Monson—flute
Pam Ajango—oboe
Greg Pliska—piano, glockenspiel, arrangements
Jeff Ellenberger—violin
Liuh-Wen Ting—viola
Heather Zimmerman—violin
Peter Bucknell—viola
Hannah Emlen—cello
Andy Stein—violin
Daniel T. Denver—percussion, arrangements
Fred Carl—alto flute
Tim McCarthy—French horn
Matthew Minucci—trombone
Jim Lake—trumpet
Carol Sharar—violin
Hem—co-arrangement

Produced by:

Gary Maurer and Dan Messé

Comments:

There was a segment on their new album Rabbit Songs on All Things Considered yesterday, and it gave me one of those rare "hearing something so beautiful on the radio that I almost drove off the road" experiences. Obviously a lot of folks agreed, since I just checked amazon.com and it's currently their #1 album. (trow@interbridge.com)

I absolutely, enthusiastically, whole-heartedly recommend Hem's album, Rabbit Songs. This garners not only 2 thumbs up, but all 20 fingers and toes. It's beautiful, spare, mostly new songs in the style of traditional Americana. If you think of Copland as being a classical composer who interpreted traditional music that way, and Robin Holcomb as a popular/classical composer who interprets it in those styles, then you could think of Hem as popular musicians who make traditional music that way. It's one of those very rare perfect albums, and if you like acoustic or folk music at all, you'll probably like it. Definitely check out some sound samples. 30 second bits at CDNow were enough to make me order the album and fall in love. I think Rabbit Songs is a perfect title too. The music is like hay, soft and gentle and soothing, but also thoughtful and chewy. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I'll second JoAnn's recommendation for Hem—not sure I'd call it a perfect album, but definitely a beautiful one. Beautiful sparse arrangements—fans of Innocence Mission and Cowboy Junkies should love this one. (jjhanson@att.net)


I'm Talking With My Mouth

Release info:

2002

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

A wonderful EP of covers. Hem really makes these songs their own. I particularly love "Valentine's Day" (though I must admit I'm not familiar with Springsteen's original). (JoAnn Whetsell)

Eveningland

Release info:

2004—Rounder/Waveland Records—11661 3240-2

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sally Ellyson—vocals
Dan Messé—piano, glockenspiel, celeste
Gary Maurer—guitars, mandolin

Guest artists:

Steve Curtis—guitars, mandolin, banjo, harmony vocals
Catherine Popper—upright bass, harmony vocals
Mark Brotter—drums
Bob Hoffnar—pedal steel
Heather Zimmerman—violin
Greg Pliska—piano, orchestra arrangements and conducting
Slovak National RadioOrchestra—strings
Dawn Landes—harmony vocal (1, 4, 9, 12)
Matt Keating—organ (2, 9), harmony vocal (9)
Pavol Púchovsk—clarinet (7, 15)
Victor Zimisko—violin (7)
Milan Teleckz—viola (7)
Misha Vitenson—violin (11)
Ivan Tvrdík—cello (15)
Josh Rouse—harmony vocal (16)
Fats Kaplin—fiddle (16)

Produced by:

Gary Maurer and Dan Messé

Comments:

A charming sophomore release. Sally Ellyson's voice is as lovely as ever, and the music is the same kind of rustic folk as on their debut. Hem has a simultaneously contemporary and old-fashioned sound and feel I find difficult to describe but thoroughly enjoy. If you liked Rabbit Songs, you'll want to get Eveningland as well. (JoAnn Whetsell)

It's great to have another album from them. (Wade)


No Word From Tom

Release info:

2006—Nettwerk/Waveland Records—0 6700 30474 2 5

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sally Ellyson—vocals
Dan Messé—piano, harmony vocal
Steve Curtis—guitar, banjo, harmony vocal
Gary Maurer—mandolin, guitar, harmony vocal

Guest artists:

Bob Hoffnar—pedal steel guitar, dobro
Mark Brotter—drums
George Rush—bass, harmony vocal
Heather Zimmerman—violin
Dawn Landes—glockenspiel, harmony vocal
Catherine Popper—bass (4, 13)
Lara Lynne Hicks—viola (10)
John Diamond—harmonica (13)

Produced by:

Gary and Dan

Comments:

Hem's only put out 2 albums, so a rarities collection (billed as Outtakes, Covers, Demos, Live Recordings & Rarities, 2000-2005) may seem premature, but when your unreleased catalog is this good, it's a crime not to share it with the world. There are moments when the album gets a little bogged down, and not all of the songs work, but most of it is incredibly beautiful. Especially worthy of mention are their covers of "Rainy Night in Georgia" and "So. Central Rain," which is slower, sadder, and perhaps more powerful than R.E.M.'s original. All of the live songs are excellent, particularly "Idle" (as close to rocking out as Hem gets). (JoAnn Whetsell)

Funnel Cloud

Release info:

2006—Nettwerk Records—0 6700 30605 2 3

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sally Ellyson—vocals
Dan Messé—piano, glockenspiel, celeste, harmony vocals
Steve Curtis—guitar, mandolin, harmony vocals
Gary Maurer—guitar, mandolin, harmonica, harmony vocals
Bob Hoffnar—pedal steel guitar, dobro
Mark Brotter—drums, percussion
Heather Zimmerman—violin
George Rush—bass
Dawn Landes—harmony vocals, glockenspiel

Guest artists:

James Iha—guest vocals (3, 6)
Amy Helm—vocals (5, 6)
Alison Cornell—fiddle (5), viola
Jon Diamond—harmonica (6)
Gowanus Radio Orchestra
Marya Columbia, Lara-Lynne Hicks—violin, viola
Mary Wooten, Eric Jacobsen—cello
Anna Reinersmann—harp
Rick Heckman—flute, oboe, English horn
Peter Hess—flute, clarinet
Matt Willis—flute
Sarah Beaty, Peck Almond—clarinet
Ben Fox—glockenspiel
CJ Camereiri—trumpet
Tom Hutchinson—trombone
Brian Mahany—euphonium

Produced by:

Gary Maurer and Dan Messé

Comments:

Another amazing CD from Hem. This isn't my favorite album they've put out, but it's wonderful nonetheless. This CD offers a fuller sound, with more and richer instrumentation. (Wade)

Funnel Cloud is not as orchestrally lush as Hem's previous albums. It has more of a band sound and more country-rock influence. They continue to be meticulous craftsmen, and it is a very good album, though not my favorite of theirs. But I like that they tweak their sound with each release instead of standing still. It always takes a little getting used to (this happened with Eveningland too), but after a few listens, I can't understand why I didn't love it at the first listen. (JoAnn Whetsell)


Home Again, Home Again EP

Release info:

2007—Nettwerk/Waveland Records—0 6700 36419 2 0

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Produced by:

Gary Maurer and Daniel Messé

Comments:

A lovely EP of five new songs and 1 old one. Hem's music is beautiful as always, and this is another solid addition to their body of work. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Peace at Last EP

Release info:

2007--iTunes download EP

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Comments:

Another nice little EP. It's a bit odd to have "Somewhere" (from West Side Story) sandwiched between two Christmas songs, but they're all so well done it doesn't really matter. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Departure and Farewell

Release info:

2013—Waveland—6 34457 58202 6

Availability:

Wide

Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Sally Ellyson—vocals
Dan Messé—piano, electric piano, celeste, glockenspiel, harmony vocal
Steve Curtis—guitar, harmony vocal>BR> Gary Maurer—guitar, mandolin, harmony vocal
Bob Hoffnar—pedal steel, dobro
George Rush—bass
Mark Brotter—drums
Dawn Landes—harmony vocal

Guest artists:

Charles Burnham—fiddle (2, 4)
Allison Cornell—violin (7)
Todd Livingston—dobro (11)
The Gowanus Radio Chorus (Matt Keating, Jason Waker, Tony Leone, Byron Issacs, Kristin Andreassen, Dawn Landes, Lauren Balthrop, Annie Nero, Erika Simonian—chorus (1, 12)
The Gowanus Radio Auxiliary Gospel Choir (Jason Walker, Joe Chappel, Tomas Cruz)—choir (2, 13)
Gowanus Radio Orchestra:
     Greg Pliska—celeste, glockenspiel, orchestra arrangements and conducting
     Claudia Chopek, Rachel Golub, Conrad Harris, Amy Kimball, Ben Lively, Victoria Paterson, Phillip Payton (concert master), Mioi Takeda, Coco Taguchi, Una Tone, Orlando Wells—violin
     Allison Cornell, Carla Fabiani, Pauline Kim, Victor Lowrie, Ale Mahave, Jessica Mayer, Miranda Sielaff—viola
     Christine Kim, Caryl Paisner, Jody Redhage, Allison Seidner, Mary Wooten, Garo Yellin—cello
     Michael Cirigliano, Rick Heckman, Peter Hess—clarinet
     Rick Heckman—flute, oboe
     Maria Harrold, Judy Lee—French horn
     Anna Reinersman—harp
     Jim Lake, Shannon Seals—trumpet, flugel horn
     Christopher Duff—trombone
     Rob Fournier—euphonium
     Todd Graves—tenor sax

Produced by:

Gary Maurer & Dan Messé

Comments:

This album was intended as a farewell to fans as the band was going to break up. So in many ways it's remarkable that it even exists. But even without that back story it would be notable as another lovely album from Hem, full of pain and beauty. (JoAnn Whetsell)

I think this is my favorite Hem album yet. It came after Dan Messé went through and then recovered from a drug addiction that essentially broke up the band for a while. (valrichardson@igc.org)

One of the best albums of the year. (christina_skov@hotmail.com)


Further info:

The Birds, Beasts and Flowers EP (2004) with Autumn Defense has 3 Hem songs, including the only release of the song "St. Charlene."

Compilation work includes:

  • "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" on the tribute album Almost You: The Songs of Elvis Costello (2003);
  • "No Hiding" on the For the Kids Three compilation (2007);
  • "The Fire Thief" on The Wedding Daze soundtrack (2007)
  • "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" on the Starbucks compilation Stockings by the Fire (2007)
  • "Half Acre" on Artists Den Volume 3: Hudson Street Recordings (2008)
  • "You Can't Always Get What You Want"* on Paint It Black: An Alt Country Tribute to the Rolling Stones (2011)

"(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes" is on some versions of the I'm Talking With My Mouth EP. "The Fire Thief" is from the album Eveningland.


Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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Jonatha Brooke

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Patty Griffin

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Anne Heaton

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Hem

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Indigo Girls

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Jem

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Nellie McKay

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Rachael Sage


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Entry last updated 2015-05-17 18:59:10.
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