CD Review of Funnel Cloud by Hem

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Funnel Cloud
starstarstarstarstar Label: Waveland Records/Nettwerk Records, LLC
Released: 2006
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Few bands capture both beauty and elegance in such a seemingly effortless way as Hem. Not to be confused with the band HIM. Oh my god, please don't make that mistake. Not that HIM is bad. It's just HIM and Hem are probably listed in the dictionary as the definition of opposite. Okay, back to the band at hand, Hem. Not since Alison Krauss has a female vocalist made such an impact on the genre, and I don't reference Alison Krauss lightly. Hell, other than Hem's vocalist Sally Ellyson, try as I might, I can't come up with a single female vocalist that's even remotely in the same ballpark. While Miss Ellyson may lack some of the more ethereal qualities of her contemporaries, she more than makes up for them with sheer grit and raw emotion – a quality that is severely lacking in many of her peers.

On their first release, Rabbit Songs, Hem proved to the world that you don't need to be part of the Nashville scene to make an impact on a genre typically reserved for folks that reside in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and not Brooklyn, NY. While tracks from their first offering are just now starting to make waves in the wonderful world of commercial licensing, Funnel Cloud keeps the purists guessing and their fans clamoring for their next offering.

One of the more intriguing aspects of this troupe is how they can expand on the darker sides of country without being overwrought and inaccessible. The opening track "We'll Meet along the Way" clearly sets the tone for the entire album and the subtle mantra of the line "Go easy now / Go easy now" gives way to "Later on the road I'm gonna lay my body down / We'll meet along the way, I know". While the subject of loss is typically reserved for trucks, dogs and relationships, again, they even offer a gentle comfort in death and the end result is a resounding triumph.

On Funnel Clouds' standout track "Not California," it's abundantly clear that their songwriting will be seen as a high water mark for years to come. I could easily picture any number of bands – across any number of styles – discovering this tune and including it in their repertoire. At least one would hope.

Regardless, please don't simply take my word about the greatness and timelessness of this record and Hem's previous releases. Rush out, pick it up, crack a bottle of wine and enjoy.

~Josh Preston