A gorgeous mix of country and folk with lush 18-piece orchestral touches, Hem’s debut is being hailed in the international music press as one of the most elegant folk-pop releases of the year—and deservedly so. The brainchild of songwriter Dan Messé (glockenspiel, harmonium, piano) and producer Gary Maurer (mandolin, guitar), Manhattan-based Hem was formed after an ad in the Village Voice found talented vocalist Sally Ellyson, whose beautiful, sultry voice combines elements of traditional American roots with a sensuality and seductiveness well beyond her years (for disclosure’s sake: I’ve known Sally’s vocals since early on in her high-school days—my mom was her high-school music teacher). Still, I would never have guessed how sophisticated and amazing a vocalist she has become, now hailed by everyone from New York Times and Rolling Stone to Time Out London.
Messé and Maurer excel at understated arrangements that are steeped in tradition yet entirely contemporary, and Ellyson brings mesmerizing passion to such pastoral gems as “When I was Drinking” and traditional a cappellas such as the opener, “Lord, Blow Out the Moon Please.” This is warm, moving stuff with exquisite instrumentation throughout, from Bob Hoffnar’s pedal steel to the violins, oboe, double bass and cellos.
You can expect great things to come from this pure and earthy Americana group, which just finished European and West Coast tours.