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Hem - Rabbit Songs
Label: Dreamworks Records
Release: 2000

Tracklisting:
Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please
When I was Drinking
Half Acre
Burying Song
Betting on Trains
Leave Me Here
All That I'm Good For
Idle (The Rabbit Song)
Stupid Mouth Shut
Lazy Eye
Sailor
Polly's Dress
Night Like a River
The Cuckoo
Waltz
Horsey
Rabbit Songs - Hem
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Possibly one of the most beautiful albums I've ever heard, Hem's "Rabbit Songs" is, while somewhat repetitive, a wonderful piece. Aside from having a neat, eye-pleasing cover and package art, the music and lyrics themselves are nicely simple; the melodies drift up and down scales in pretty little riffs and notes that make you smile to yourself and paint pictures in your mind. And not one of the songs passes 3:50 in length.

The album opens with the traditional song "Lord, Blow the Moon Out Please." A whopping 27 seconds long, it contains no music whatsoever and only the beautiful voice of Sally Ellyson, the band's vocalist. That and the next song, "When I was Drinking", don't have too much to comment on except hinting at what's to come.

"Half Acre" is probably my personal favorite song here, with the simple, sad lyrics "Do you carry every sadness with you / Every hour your heart was broken / Everything night the fear and darkness / Lay down with you." A clarinet, cello, viola, piano, and various other instruments accompanies the vocals in its predictable weaving through the scale, and you'd think that all these mixes of sounds would be cringeworthy but the arrangements are absolutely flawless. Angelic.

The "Burying Song" is, to me, a very curious piece of work. 1:13 seconds long and no vocals, the song is named perfectly. A mandolin (?) opens with a few notes, followed by a piano, violin, flue, and oboe. If you listen to the song, you can tell that the flow of ups-and-downs in the melodies convey the concept of its title nicely.

"Someone's waving / Someone's counting / Someone's leaving" opens the next track, Betting on Trains. The mix of instruments is just like all the other tracks, arranged flawlessly. "Leave Me Here" is another standout song on the album, with a quietly clever theme to the darker side of love and dependency. "Cuz tonight he brought me to heaven / and left me here"... followed by "Cuz tonight love feels nothing like heaven / don't leave me here". Sally displays some unusually high notes, but other than that, nothing is musically original in the song - same beautiful riffs and repeated melodies that to the untrained ear might get boring, but all are diverse.

"All That I'm Good For" is different in the sense it sounds slightly more modern-country rockish, with drums and slightly twangy guitars in the background. Probably the song most likely to be found on a country radio station, the cello and viola/violin in the background don't make the song cluttered but merely interesting. The lyrics are slightly buttery, however, with a few good metaphors but overall simple and simply themed. "Idle" is a pretty, bouncy track with several repeated choruses, musically it's the same as most of the songs on the album but more finger-tapping worthy. "Stupid Mouth Shut" is the song I admire most for its figurative lyrics, a nice follow-up to the more disappointing lyrics of "All That I'm Good For" and "Idle". The violin hits quite a few high notes, matching perfectly with the vocals and clarinet, but the only constants through the song are the guitars and drums.

"Lazy Eye" is terribly simple, with two short verses, a mandolin, violin, guitar and piano. Sally sings for half the song and then the instruments take over for a short bridge before the second verse is repeated. "Sailor" is another unusual song, slower than the other songs, with Sally hitting much lower, whispery notes ("pearls in the sky are strung 'round the moon / pointing to you") before suddenly strengthening her voice to sing "and I'll sail till morning / or I'll sail till I am carried to you tonight". It has various instruments not seen in other songs - trumpet, trombone, French horn, etc. I don't really fancy this one too much, as the lyrics aren't much and the slow pace is somewhat tiring. "Polly's Dress", another instrumental, is a change from "Sailor", containing a quick piano, soon joined by an orchestra of instruments in a pretty little crescendo that drifts down to a quick ending.

"Night Like a River", one of the few songs on the album not written by Dan Messe, is another more country-ish tune, a welcome change from the slowness of the past few songs. It's the only song that breaks into an actual chorus of voice and instrument - "And I could live a long, long while on the sweetness of her breath / And I could die for walking miles and still not find my rest" - which isn't found anywhere else on the album. For once a male voice is detectable among the music behind Sally's vocals. Quite a nice track.

"The Cuckoo", another traditional song, is quick and a good choice to follow the more rockish "Night Like a River". I'm fairly sure that opening instrument is a mandolin, maybe with a guitar. The violin keeps up a nice pace with the strings and I can't complain about this song at all. It's very pretty, very quick compared to some other tracks. "Waltz" - third and last instrumental - brings us back to the slow pace of about the middle of the album, with a piano and voilin interweaving amongst each other. "Horsey" is the final song on the album, nothing new except for doubled vocals. The pace is also slightly unusual, speeding up only to slow abruptly.

All in all, this album is quite a beautiful piece of work, I can't find any major flaws except that it seems to survive on the fact that for every unorginal song there's a standout one. While the lyrics aren't much to brag about, they have their moments of glory, and the music is amazingly fantastic the whole way through. Arrangements are absolutely perfect. Definitely a wonderful piece of work, especially for fans of the likes of Gillian Welch. Beautiful, pretty, sad, simple, flowing... a greatly underrated album.

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