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Departure and Farewell

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Album Review

Departure & Farewell is the first album by Hem in nearly seven years. They entered the studio in 2007 to record a proper follow-up to Funnel Cloud, and almost didn't get out. According to an interview with chief songwriter Dan Messe, the initial sessions were supposed to be for a final release, and broke down during a tumultuous period for the band internally. Certain relationships were strained to the breaking point and a period of separation was necessary. Thankfully, time, willingness, forgiveness, and respect heal wounds. Departure & Farewell is vital, ambitious; Hem sound renewed (they aren't breaking up). Many, including the opening title track, "Walking Past the Graveyard, Not Breathing," "Traveler's Song," and others make use of a large chamber orchestra (usually in parts) with winds, brass, and strings. Particularly effective are "Gently Down the Stream," with its woven electric and acoustic guitars and swooping strings, and the interplay of piano, harp, clarinet, guitars, and strings on "Tourniquet." Other cuts are much more sparse. The moving, hymn-like "The Seed" features the band with violinist Charles Burnham, while the gorgeous country-tinged "The Jack Pine" adds Bob Hoffnar's pedal steel. Sally Ellyson's signature warm, lullaby style is present in the silvery sweetness of "Seven Angels" and the shimmering "Bird Song," where glockenspiel, strings, percussion, and acoustic guitars offer an otherworldly waltz for her to carry the listener to another place. "Last Call" is an epilogue to drinking songs on earlier recordings such as "When I Was Drinking," "Lucky," and "Pacific Street." One of the two homemade choirs guests to underscore its late-night barroom feel. Another of these sends the record off on the bittersweet "So Long," a country gospel goodbye steeped in the notion of love without regret, leaving the possibility of return. No matter how expansive the arrangements, the production by Messe and guitarist Gary Maurer leaves plenty of room for space; they also — wisely — make Ellyson's voice the unwavering anchor in each song, its place of solace and comfort. Therefore, Hem's trademark sense of intimacy and elegant directness is never sacrificed. Departure & Farewell abundantly testifies to the band's creative vitality. Not only are these songs equal to anything they've presented before — no mean feat for a record so long in the making — their poetry and melodies deliver grace and tenderness more abundantly for having been tested by fire. Track for track, this was well worth waiting for.

Customer Reviews

My Favorite Band - This one is excellent

I was hooked on Hem the moment I heard Lazy Eye and Half Acre on NPR ages ago. They really aren't folk or country - I don't listen to either. They fall into some brand new category (early american traditional music combined with a hint of country and a touch of folk). They sing about a seed, a bird, a small town, but what they touch is some deep memory of foreboding or joy from your childhood, an image or raw emotion tucked away for years but flooding back with a mixture of doom and joy at the same time.

This album is excellent, refined and very much back in their original style. I have only listened a couple of times but it is wonderful.

If you haven't enjoyed Hem, I recommend starting with the innovative Eveningland (never, ever heard anything like Redwing before!) or the more emotionally charged Rabbit Songs (Leave me Here is beautiful).

Wonderful works....again!

Simply Hem.....wonderful work, thanks for always putting your hearts into making your music!

Departure and Farewell

AWESOME! We've missed you, HEM ~ welcome back!


Formed: 1999 in New York, NY

Genre: Singer/Songwriter

Years Active: '00s, '10s

The genesis of the New York-based folk outfit Hem goes back to 1999, when songwriter Dan Messe teamed up with producer/engineer Gary Maurer (who had worked with artists such as Jon Spencer, Luna, Fountains of Wayne, and James Iha). The two wanted to make a record that would explore their interests in traditional American music while draping it in contemporary stylings. They enlisted friend Steve Curtis (guitar, mandolin) and, needing a singer, placed an ad in The Village Voice. After receiving numerous...
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