I guess it was about 2 summers ago that my friend Leslie and I went to see Over the Rhine in Altanta. I’ve seen Over the Rhine live quite a few times, and they were fabulous that night, as usual. But I was really blown away by the band they were co-headlining with: Hem. I bought one of their albums, Eveningland, that night. It was a hard choice even then between Eveningland and Rabbit Songs, since both have such lovely interesting songs on them. I’ve since acquired all their records, but I think I made the right choice that night – Eveningland just barely edges out Rabbit Songs and Funnel Cloud for the distinct honor of my next Desert Island Selection.
All the elements of Hem’s aesthetic fit together well. Sally Ellison’s warm voice (and the lovely vocal harmony they use frequently), the delicate orchestration (heavy on strings and piano) and the evocative heart-wrenching lyrics. You might recognize them without knowing it, since their songs “Half-Acre” and “The Part Where You Let Go” have been featured on commercials for Liberty Mutual. When I saw them, their instrumentation was: piano, guitar, string bass, pedal steel. I know. I fell in love immediately.
I think “Lucky” is one of the prettiest love songs I’ve encountered (and I’ve heard a lot of love songs). Read this chorus:
If I should lose
I’ll wake up feeling lucky
if I should take a fall
or throw it all away
I wouldn’t mind lying beside you
the rest of my days.
I love the way “Redwing” sounds like it’s soaring, and I love the line “circling like sparrows”. I believe “Pacific Street” is a song about when the members of the band met each other, but to me it’s about old friends, and remembering good times even if things have changed, “because leaving things is just too hard for me.” It about wrecks me every time.
And they have this great slow cover of “Jackson” on this album too. Which means that not only is it a fabulous album in its own right, but also includes another of my favorite things: covers that are significantly different from the original.
Most of their songs have that sense of affection and longing. And have I mentioned the gorgeous arrangements? Because they are gorgeous. It’s a great album for a quiet morning or evening (maybe more evening, hence the name) with tea or a glass of wine and a book. Or if you’re me and will listen to gentle, slow-tempo stuff anytime, then anytime.