The good news is that Hem's newest album, Funnel Cloud, won't alienate any fans who expect more of the same intimate beauty. But, to the band's credit, a few changes do appear for the better, most notably Ellyson's voice, which sounds more passionate and mature, especially on the opener We'll Meet Along The Way and the country-flavored Too Late To Turn Back Now and The Pills Stopped Working. Chief songwriter Dan Mess also holds his strong form with the creation of classic Hem tunes like "Great Houses of New York and the title track. If nothing else, Funnel Cloud serves as the perfect soundtrack for a cool, lazy Sunday morning, one that you'll have no problem enjoying over and over again.
It might sound like a backhanded compliment to say Hem makes lite-rock with a country twist. But before you conjure up images of Phil Collins with a cowboy hat, let's clarify by saying the New York band essentially picks up where the Cowboy Junkies left off--crafting intimate southern songs that unfold with quiet dignity over a bed of strings, pedal-steel guitars and restrained piano flourishes. That's more like it. Besides, in Sally Ellyson, the group has a singer whose clear, sweet voice can't help but make even the most overcast song sound oddly beautiful. If only "I'll Dream Of You Tonight" and "Too Late To Turn Back Now" could be the soundtrack to every waiting room people would actually look forward to that next root canal. --Aidin Vaziri