Funnel Cloud

Funnel Cloud

by Hem


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Funnel Cloud

Hem delighted fans and newcomers with their debut, Rabbit Songs, and its follow up, Eveningland. The pair could have -- and perhaps should have -- been released as a double-CD set; they sounded that similar to one another. Hem drew inevitable comparisons to the Cowboy Junkies because of Sally Ellyson's laid-back, clear vocal style, and sometimes to 10,000 Maniacs, although the latter never came close musically to this band's quiet power. The sheer gentleness and tenderness of Hem's earlier records were a sure draw, but after two albums the average listener felt as if Hem may have taken their sound as far as it could go. Fortunately, this simply isn't so. Dan Messe (piano, glockenspiel, celeste and harmony vocals) and Gary Maurer (guitar, harmonica, mandolin and harmony vocals) are founding members and the band's two principal songwriters, with guitarist and harmony vocalist Steve Curtis contributing songs as well. This trio looked deep and hard into their sound and came up with something beautifully different, though not so different as to alienate the faithful. Funnel Cloud is a much more lush affair and showcases Ellyson's vocals in an entirely new way. Self-produced, the songs here are of a much wider variety and reveal an entirely new dimension of the trio. While Hem remains committed to acoustic music, the electric guitars, pedal steels, found sounds, and tighter arrangements on Funnel Cloud showcase Ellyson as a passionate singer who perfectly interprets her bandmates lyrics and musical ideas. The brief, droney, acoustic opener "Go Easy Now," which has the timeless sound of a traditional folk song isn't so much folksy as it delves deep into the ether of historical balladry with Ellyson upfront evoking the sadness, resignation, and lonely space of all the great singers from Norma Waterson to Hazel Dickens. On "He Came to Meet Me," the country-tinged sound begins to kiss inside the frame of Curtis' tune. It's a love song that is dressed in cello and violin, piano, guitar, and pedal steel as it wanders through a country shuffle. One can feel the anticipation and the gratitude in the clarity of Ellyson's voice. When it all gels in the strolling, gradually erupting "Not California," the presence of need, both spiritual and erotic, makes its presence felt. Ellyson's control is complete as the band builds gently, at first, to bring her up and out of her known persona. She can reach into herself and they know it; they go deep with her. It's such a perfectly natural collaboration it feels like this band has been together for decades. Ellyson's vocal talents are just beginning to shine, but it's the songs that make them radiant. The sense of dynamic and texture on Funnel Cloud is deeply nuanced, caressed instead of coerced. When Ellyson gets to "I'm the one who wants to be the one you're with tonight" everything swells to the breaking point and never quite does, thankfully. The back-to-back songs "Too Late to Turn Back Now" and "The Pills Stopped Working" are mirror images. The former is a straight-up country song that stretches the whole band while sounding as natural as if they've been playing road songs forever. The strings go far beyond the excesses of Nash Vegas, however. The latter, "The Pills Stopped Working," takes the country music to a rock edge with just a hint of blues. One can actually picture Joan Baez singing this song in her current incarnation. The band spreads itself out but not thin. The harmony vocals behind Ellyson are the reins of restraint that allow her to creep out on top of the edge, and Bob Hoffnar's pedal steel whines in the foreground and creeps to the background. There is grit, fresh hums, and mud in the lyrics and Ellyson sings them with an honesty that is unflinching; she never gives up hope. "Hotel Fire" and "Great Houses of New York" both slip into the late 19th century parlor for their inspiration; they're just gorgeously arranged and played with such elegance and restraint, they feel like songs that have been around since then. "I'll Dream of You Tonight," is a country love song full of such longing, lost on the road, lost in the company of strangers, lost in the company of an aching heart, that it can only take comfort in tomorrow and the assurance that love is waiting. Funnel Cloud is the site on the horizon, where what's here and now is beautiful and utterly serene, but what lies just behind the next cloud is a storm brewing so memory, loss, hope, desire, and the stillness of the present are all and everything there is. This is easily the band's finest outing to date; it shows that they have more ideas than can be contained in the space of a single recording. Get it.

Product Details

Release Date: 09/05/2006
Label: Nettwerk Records
UPC: 0067003060523
catalogNumber: 30605
Rank: 77249

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Hem   Primary Artist
Bob Hoffnar   Dobro,Percussion,Pedal Steel Guitar,Drums,Group Member
James Iha   Vocals
Mary Wooten   Cello
Allison Cornell   Fiddle,Viola
Richard Heckman   Flute,English Horn,Oboe
Gary Maurer   Guitar,Harmonica,Mandolin,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Heather Zimmerman   Violin,Group Member
Mark Brotter   Percussion,Drums,Group Member
Peck Almond   Clarinet
Matt Willis   Flute
George Rush   Bass,Group Member
Amy Helm   Vocals
Dawn Landes   Glockenspiel,Background Vocals,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Dan Messe   Piano,Celeste,Glockenspiel,Vocals,Various,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Steve Curtis   Guitar,Mandolin,Vocals,Vocal Harmony,Group Member
Sally Ellyson   Vocals,Group Member
Greg Pliska   Conductor
Tom Hutchinson   Trombone
Jon Diamond   Harmonica
Peter Hess   Clarinet,Flute
Gowanus Radio Orchestra   Track Performer

Technical Credits

Bob Hoffnar   Composer
Gary Maurer   Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Dan Messe   Producer,Engineer,Audio Production
Greg Pliska   Arranger
Gus Oberg   Engineer
Patrick Billard   Engineer

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

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Funnel Cloud 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
mike-v More than 1 year ago
I heard Hem several years back on the overhead music you hear at B&N, and I fell in love. I have all their albums and I love every track of each one. I can't wait for their next one. This is an artist I am truly happy to spend $20 on for a CD. If you're into quiet, beautifully orchestrated folk music, they MUST be in your collection!
Karl_in_Coatesville More than 1 year ago
I first came accross HEM watching an insurance commercial - Liberty Mutual I think? - the commercials are very "pay it forward" and HEM is playing in the background. I started googling the lyric and that's how I came to HEM. I don't "love" every single song, but I DO love every single album as a body of work. Seriously - these guys are amazing and everyone I play their music for is SO impressed.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago