The Sound of Hem

Home Again, Home AgainOne night, a year ago or so, I was talking to my brother Mark on the phone. Mark and I both love music, and the conversation that evening turned to music. Mark told me about a group that he had discovered recently, a group with a beautifully unique sound and a simple name, “Hem”.

Even if you have never heard of the group, you have probably heard at least one of their songs without even realizing it. In 2006, Liberty Mutual insurance company aired a commercial that created a lot of buzz. Here’s how the company describes it on their website.

“It all began with a single commercial that gave voice to an entire movement. It prompted thousands of people to start thinking and talking about responsibility, to celebrate the positive things in their lives and the world around them. And it captured the essence of Liberty Mutual’s core belief that responsibility matters, and doing the right thing is everything.”

The song featured in the commercial was “Half Acre” by Hem.

The following year, Liberty Mutual produced another similar commercial using a new song from Hem entitled, “The Part Where You Let Go”.

As a result of the buzz created by these two commercials, Hem’s music was introduced to a whole new audience of listeners. I’m glad to say that my brother Mark and I are part of that audience.

The hauntingly beautiful female voice that helps to define the sound of Hem belongs to Sally Ellyson. The band’s official biography, from their website, tells how the group was formed.

In the spring of 1999, songwriter Dan Messé (piano, glockenspiel, harmonium) teamed up with producer/engineer Gary Maurer (guitar, mandolin) and decided to make a record. He hoped that it would stylistically interweave their interest in traditional American music with more of a contemporary aesthetic. Dan and Gary’s mutual friend Steve Curtis (guitar, mandolin) became involved and all that was needed was a singer.

The band placed an ad in the Village Voice. An onslaught of bizarre demos followed suit and so the ad was pulled.

Shortly thereafter a woman named Sally Ellyson called Dan in response to it, cautioning that she wasn’t really a “singer”. To get her off the phone Dan asked for a demo, skeptical to say the least. This home-made tape of Sally unaccompanied, singing versions of traditional lullabies, was spare, deceptively uncomplicated and as spine-tingling as anything Dan could have hoped for. The band that would now call itself Hem had found its singer.

To hear the above two songs in their entirety, please click the button below.

Paul O'Rear Signature

Photo Credit:

  1. “Home Again, Home Again” album cover art (from used in compliance with the doctrine of Fair Use

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