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Funnel Cloud – 2006 (Nettwerk)

Reviewed by Stuart Munro

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CDs by Hem

On what may be its most accomplished album to date, Hem creates more of its meticulous, seductive amalgam of folk, country and pop, wrapped (more than ever this time) in a gorgeous, atmospheric blanket of orchestration, courtesy of the home-grown "Gowanus Radio Orchestra" that was assembled by the band for its purposes.

The album circles through a series of recurring images and themes - of fire and looming disaster, of how the sudden and atypical (like a funnel cloud) can interrupt the everyday and blow it clear apart (thereby changing not only the world but the way one sees it), of separation and reunion, and of the combination of uncertainty and exhilaration that new undertakings and liaisons can bring.

All of these concerns are articulated with music that encompasses pop, by turns soaring ("Not California") and Brill-Building classic ("Almost Home"), acoustic country that's Dobro-driven ("Old Adam") and fiddle-laced ("Too Late to Turn Back Now"), and ensemble playing evocative of The Band ("The Pills Stopped Working"). And perhaps the most remarkable thing about what results is how Hem manages to make it sounds as if it's all cut from the same cloth and like nothing else you've ever heard.