The third studio album from the New York group Hem continues their string of fine releases. The band is based around the core quartet of vocalist Sally Ellyson, pianist Dan Messé, and guitarists Gary Maurer and Steve Curtis, which is fleshed out as needed by additional players. On Funnel Cloud, it's a nine-piece band with the core group joined by a bassist, drummer, pedal steel player, glockenspiel player, and a violinist.
One of the most striking songs for us here in Pittsburgh is the beautiful "Reservoir." The band's Steve Curtis is from Pittsburgh originally, in which he writes about "the iron hills of Pittsburgh, where all my memories are." Curtis calls the song his "love song" to the area and explains, "Hem's been touring for a bunch of years now, and I've seen some splendid and awesome sights across the country and across the ocean, but this song is about those humblest images of home that are, ultimately, really the most important to me."
Singer Sally Ellyson gets a showpiece in the track "Not California," which features a soaring chorus that she can let loose upon. The song's rootsy vibe complete with harmonica and pedal steel guitar is typical of much of the album, although their arrangements on some songs, including those that use an eighteen-piece orchestra, feel more cinematic than Americana.
Another standout is "The Pills Stopped Working," the band's attempt to get a bit of a Rolling Stones sound. It's certainly among the more rocking numbers the band has in their repertoire and it's quite enjoyable to see Hem change up their sound a little.
Funnel Cloud is both a low-key and intense album with gorgeous sound, great songwriting, and a powerful beauty.