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   Thursday, October 10, 2002  
So, whilst Nina Nastasia succeeded in matching her recorded sound at the Spitz [see previous post], this blog is happy to report that fellow New York outfit Hem surpassed theirs last Friday in Leicester, in one aspect particularly. Talking recently about their debut collection Rabbit songs with a friend who also has the album, reallyrather commented on how low down in the mix the vocal harmonies are. "Harmonies?," he replied, further making my point, "I thought it was just the woman singer". While it's completely understandable, when you discover a voice like Sally Ellyson's, to be keen not to want to distract from it, the live show proved they lose nothing but gain plenty when the other voices are faded up. This was evident right from the off, a warmly reverential version of The Tennessee waltz seeing Sally joined by one of the group's two principal vocal foils, guitarist Steve Curtis; he also featured to great effect on Jackson, one of the 5 songs covered on new EP I'm talking with my mouth. The sleevenotes to this confirm that Hem are now officially a six-piece with the post-Rabbit songs addition of drummer Mark Brotter and striking bass-player Catherine Popper. Wielding an electric upright bass and a soupcon of attitude, Popper was the group's other harmony provider, particularly helping make the sweetly rolling Stupid mouth shut one of the night's highlights. But any such selection would be fairly invidious as the whole thing was a joy more or less from beginning to end. Over a set of at least an hour-and-a-half, the eight-piece ensemble - guitar, mandolin, lap steel, piano, violin, bass and drums all wrapping themselves round the unwaveringly classy centrepiece of Sally Ellyson's voice - brought just about the band's entire recorded output to life with an unfussy warmth. Spot-on instrumental solos were injected into the familiar arrangements here and there, the band seemingly have good old time whilst never losing the easy grace that has quickly become their hallmark. And the fine musicality was overlain with rampant self-effacement. Several new songs were also trialed (Dance with me now darling?) and all augured extremely well for the second album. Do yourself (and all your friends & family) a favour and be sure to catch them when they're back over to promote it...

93 Feet East hosts Apples in Stereo plus Great Lakes on Nov 6. Neither of whom feature in the latest edition of fine UK music mag Comes with a smile (and accompanying cd), but Richard Buckner, Guided By Voices, The Handsome Family, Ben Kweller, Norfolk & Western, Sarah Harmer and a load of others do...
   posted by SMc at 12:04 PM |