Reviews

Hem

With two highly acclaimed albums to their credit, Hem bandmates take the unusual step of turning their third effort into a retrospective of sorts, with reworked versions of their early catalogue combined with a heavy infusion of outtakes, rarities, and live tracks. For most bands, this would be a premature gesture, not to mention one that's rather risky. After all, at this point in their career, you'd expect to see them moving forward on the critical momentum, not backtracking into well-trod terrain. In Hem's case, however, the strategy works well; its lush, folk-infused brand of backwoods Americana is further illuminated here, both in retooled originals and in a handful of classic covers. Some of those song choices might be expected (country chestnuts "Brand New Tennessee Waltz" and "Crazy Arms," Brooke Benton's soulful "Rainy Night in Georgia"), yet some are also surprising (an aching remake of R.E.M.'s "So. Central Rain," a riveting take on Fountain of Wayne's "Radiation Vibe"). Singer Sally Ellyson provides the obvious focus, her soothing, serene vocals lending an effusive allure to these shimmering soundscapes. However, this is definitely a group effort; the gorgeous orchestral arrangements enveloping "Eveningland," and the soothing embrace of "Sailor" and "The Golden Day Is Dying," leave a radiant afterglow that lingers long after the final notes fade.

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Lee Zimmerman