Hem at Iota, Arlington, VA, Friday 12 November 2004
The New York-based acoustic group Hem played at Iota on Friday night with a single-minded unity that gave its serene music an uplifting warmth. Behind Sally Ellyson's peaceful vocals, the six instruments fused into a harmonious blend from which a keyboard flourish or mandolin solo would sometimes escape.
Ellyson's voice floated effortlessly over the melody in songs like "Strays," as she lingered over trills in her lower register. Her efforts were complemented by harmonies from Dawn Landes (who also played glockenspiel); the two melded perfectly in the lilting "Horsey" and "Stupid Mouth Shut." To break free from the overwhelming tranquillity, the group occasionally added a tambourine, which gave energy to "Night Like a River" and "Redwing."
While the sold-out audience cheered in recognition of "Half Acre" and "When I Was Drinking," much of the time the patrons were too busy talking to notice the signs requesting an extra-quiet show. The chattiness started during the opening act (planned opener Shivaree canceled so Landes played a brief solo set). Barely audible against the happy-hour volume of the crowd, she might have had better luck just playing her CD over the club's PA system.
-- Catherine P. Lewis