Hem fans faced a real conundrum when the group released its debut album Rabbit Songs in 2002.
The album’s gorgeously lush sound was so entrancing, it made a listener crave more. But Rabbit Songs was the only work available at the time, which meant a second album would be highly anticipated.
After an unproductive stint with Dreamworks in 2003, Hem is back with an independent label for its second album, Eveningland.
Ah, the second album, the dreaded sophomore slump.
It’s a matter of personal taste whether Hem falls into it with Eveningland, because on the surface, the band offers up the same lush sound it did on its debut.
No matter how full the string orchestra gets, Hem’s songs retain an intimate feel.
Sally Ellyson’s quiet delivery brings her a lot closer to Cowboy Junkies’ Margo Timmins in style, but Ellyson can emote when the music reaches a peak.
In fact, “Redwing” reaches a brisk tempo, making it Hem’s most extroverted song.
This time around, the band casts a wider net when exploring America’s folk music. “Strays” is a gospel hymn, complete with four-part harmony. The simple melody of “Hollow” feels like a timeless mountain lullaby, while “Lucky” and “An Easy One” are both country weepers.
Steven Curtis’ backing vocals offer a nice constrast to Ellyson and gives these songs an added push.
Dan Messé’s pulsing piano from Rabbit Songs (see “Half Acre”) is missing on Eveningland, which is something I wished to hear again.
The band also scaled back the arrangements a bit, putting the strings and woodwinds further in the background. They still weave in and out of the album’s songs, but it doesn’t seem as intertwined as the previous album.
The mastering of the album also seems a bit dull.
But those criticisms are incredibly nit-picky and in no way reflect on the quality of music Hem offers up this time around.
Eveningland is just as beautiful as Rabbit Songs, and it’s nice to indulge in Hem’s sound with a new set of songs.