If Hem’s Troubadour show had a theme, it was the often-embroidered chestnut ‘there’s no place like home.’ Not necessarily the room where you germinated your CD collection and hung your Morrissey posters, but the idyllic country paradise you secretly harbor, especially if your actual hometown is Van Nuys, Calif., and you’ve never been south of San Diego. Home, or rather the idea of a rustic patch of greenery far away from the smoggy City, was much on the minds of these New Yorkers and their opening acts. This imaginary homeland is at the heart of “countrypolitan,” a genre embraced by passels of art geeks who, by accident of birth, were raised by folk more akin to the Kennedys than the Carter Family.
Hem provided enough soft, sophisticated ballads to satisfy the part of you that cries out for Lyle Lovett and Waylon Jennings. And opening singer/songwriter Dawn Landes crooned convincingly about escaping a city where it’s easier to drink than breathe, while second act David Mead led a sing-a-long about taking off for New Mexico where the air is clean.
The voice of perpetual homesickness came from ethereal beauty Sally Ellyson (pictured above), who could captivate a room by singing the phone book. Tonight she has songwriter, pianist and all-around engine Dan Messé’s bittersweet songs to wrap her whiskey-and-cashmere voice around. Throw in gorgeous covers of Cash and Carter’s “Jackson” and “The Tennessee Waltz”—along with Ellyson’s amusing anecdotes about the band’s road adventures—and the audience was curled up at Hem’s feet like a litter of kittens.
Ellyson’s charms were even more powerful when backed by lush arrangements with room for solos on the mandolin and guitar courtesy of Gary Maurer and Steve Curtis. All the while, Bob Hoffnar’s exquisite pedal-steel guitar circled above the melody like a drowsy hawk. Even the most jaded Yankee couldn’t resist bedding down in Hem’s wistful lullabies and drifting off to dreamland.