Album Reviews

Hem – Rabbit Songs

(Setanta) UK release date: 17 September 2001


Hem - Rabbit Songs

Hem‘s debut British release starts with a short traditional American solo verse sung by Sally Ellyson. It was this that songwriter Dan Messe first heard on Sally’s demo, which convinced him to collaborate withSally for this release, and from the first heartbreaking strains of Lord, Blow The Moon Out Please, I too was almost hypnotised by her outstanding voice.

She is one of those singers who can command and control an audience’s feelings and thoughts while only emitting the faintest of sounds.She puts vibrato on the lines at just the right moment, and once you have heard her voice, it is difficult to concentrate on anything else except her.

Not that it would be a hard task, for although not flawless, this album has several streaks of genius scattered through it. The music explores the traditional elements of American music, and just manages to remain relevant in a modern musical context.

The album is relatively long in terms of tracks, and it must be said that a few of these seemed very average in a musical sense. For instance, Betting On Trains uses several additional musicians, including pedal steel, and wind and string sections. However, it hardly seems to make full use of these extra players.

This particular song reminded me of The Corrs (which may be the reason that I am criticising it). Another fairly unsuccessful song takes the form of Lazy Eye. Although it starts promisingly, there is a hugely misplaced violin cadenza which hampers and almost contradicts the few touches of magic in the lyrics. In the majority of the tracks, the lyrics are indeed a joy to behold. Outstanding tracks include the Burying Song, the filmy Polly’s Dress, and the mesmerising Sailor, with its gorgeous and fantastically arranged brass and string writing. The album may indeed be worth buying for this song alone.

Overall, the album achieves its goal: there is definitely a folk element, and in a way one can draw parallels between the traditional American music and its modern counterpart (Betting On Trains is probably the most ‘modern’ of all of them, and even strays dangerously close to, erm, dare I say it…. Pop!).

Some of the tracks would not be out of place on a Hollywood film soundtrack, and I even wouldn’t be surprised to hear Waltz on Classic FM. Several songs are reminiscent of Goldfrapp, and Ellyson’s voice definitely adds a sparkle to the proceedings, with a voice beautifying ’30s Parisian cabarets.

The flawed moments I have mentioned are submerged by moments where your heartstrings are pulled, your hair stands on end, your body becomes numb, and the future of popular music almost seems safe. Go buy.


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Hem – Rabbit Songs