Monday, February 20, 2006

Hem tour in support of No Word from Tom

Hem @ Workplay; Birmingham, AL

Hem makes it through Birmingham about once a year, drawing slightly more of a crowd each year and charging slightly more for tickets each year. Although I feel sympathy for the folks who skip the annual Workplay Hem-fest, I can’t help but feel like part of a small, elite group of fans clued in to the fact that Hem is one of the best folk/Americana bands making music right now.

For this tour, fans got to see a stripped down version of Hem featuring songwriter Dan Messé on piano and accordian; Steve Curtis on guitar, mandolin, and backing vocals; Gary Maurer on guitar and mandolin; and the lovely Sally Ellyson on lead vocals. The harmony of these instruments blends so perfectly live that listeners become malleable clay responding with shivers and warm approval to each crescendo and fall of the songs. It’s a reaction fans can count on, and that’s probably why Hem gets a healthier crowd every time they visit the city.

Claiming Workplay as one of their favorite places to play, Ellyson confided that they had chosen Birmingham as the place to debut four new songs off of their upcoming release, tentatively titled Funnel Cloud. Despite the band’s confession that the songs had never before been played live, each new song sounded as effortless as their live staples such as “When I was Drinking,” “Sailor,” and cover songs “Jackson” and “The Tennessee Waltz.” Gary Maurer’s mandolin solos were a complex yet flawless intermission to Ellyson and Curtis’s unique vocal harmonies. A friend commented on Messé’s preference for playing below “middle C” on the Yamaha baby grand piano, and once my attention was called to it I began to notice the full-bodied warmth these octaves gave to Hem’s overall sound.

--Find this review in its entirety (in a few days) and other recent concert at

For now, here are some mp3s off Hem's new collection of covers, demos, and live recordings titled No Word from Tom. Both of these were played at the show: an outtake of a Hem original from their first LP Rabbit Songs and a cover of the Fountains of Wayne song "Radiation Vibe."

Hem - Radiation Vibe
Hem - Betting on Trains


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