OR   Search for Artist/Title    Advanced Search
you are not logged in...  [login] 
All Reviews    Edit This Review     
'Cork, Cyprus Avenue, 4th March 2005'   

-  Genre: 'Alt/Country'

Our Rating:
"I wrore this song on the toilet," says MARTHA TILSTON, disarmingly. "It's called "The Numbness", though not because I was on the toilet. It's about that feeling when you're a bit stoned. If you haven't been stoned, then imagine when you've just got out of a warm bath."

She's rambling a bit, and informally ditsy, but our Martha's kookily tuneful songs of love and adventure are also pretty endearing on the whole. Perched on a high stool, with just a glass of red wine and a big guitar for company, she's a natural raconteur: happy to invite us all to her party and even giving W&H smudger Kate a wave and a big "hello!" as she snaps away stagefront.

Then again, with Martha's pedigree it's probably no surprise she's comfortable in front of an audience. Her father is well-respected UK folkie Steve Tilston and her stepmom Scottish folk chanteuse Maggie Bell, and she's already done a lengthy trawl around Ireland supporting the prodigal Damien Rice two years back: a fact she's happy to share with us as she introduces "Over To Ireland." It's one of several highlights tonight, with other memorable moments coming via "Night Rambling" - a jazzy effort with guest pianist Greg Pliska that sounds like a distant cousin of Nick Drake's "Bryter Layter" album - and the aforementioned "The Numbness" which features lyrics about listening to Buddha and a chorus of "I want to disappear down the waterhole". And why not indeed? Martha grew up in a house where it was normal to find Bert Jansch hanging out playing guitar in the front room, and has a way with dottily emotive songs that recall the likes of Katell Keinig. She's intrigingly offbeat and a good prelude for tonight's main event.

NYC'S HEM come to Cork on the back of the success of the "Twisted Folk" tour of the UK in support to the much-vaunted Earlies and are the proud parents of rather lovely second album "Eveningland" which has been released to uniformly great reviews over the past fortnight or so. They're temporarily without main songwriter Dan Messe, who's wife is currently about to give birth, but arranger Greg Pliska is a more than able deputy and - even minus the graceful string arrangments that fill out their songs on record - they are gently formidable tonight.

They open with their suitably ethereal cover of Johnny Cash's "Jackson." It's given a delectable, Cowboy Junkies-style makeover, and is the perfect vehicle for Sally Ellyson's sensuosly smoky vocals. Pliska's piano ripples are attractive and Bob Hoffnar's silvery shards of pedal steel dart in and out of the melody lines. It's a great start, and one Hem build on to great effect throughout their hour plus set.

Overall, the band fashion a pleasantly upmarket NYC-style take on the ever-shifting Americana blueprint. They are perhaps a little too eager to please (their continual references to their Irish roots become a tad irritating) and the smoothness of some of the songs - along with the absence of drummer Mark Brotter - causes some of the mid-set material to sound a bit toothless. But for the most part, Hem have us eating out of their hands and rightly so.

It's a subtle, gracious seduction they offer us. With her tousled tresses, classic cheekbones and coquettish, stack-heeled boots, Ellyson is the obvious focal point, and she breathes magic into songs like the patient, expectant country-blues of "Fire Thief" which culminates in a chorus of "leave the light on" that truly soars. She also excels when harmonising with bespectacled guitarist Steve Curtis, like on the melancholy trade-off of the gently, reflective "Receiver". This is also the tune where Greg Pliska plays the tune's motif on a tiny glockenspiel. It's a miniscule thing, and surely the funkiest 'rock glock' since Jonny Greenwood utilised a similar one for Radiohead's "No Surprises."

But for all Sally Ellyson's star quality, really Hem are a disciplined team effort. Songs like "Dance With Me, Now Darling" are assertive stabs of recognisably Nashville-influenced country in the best Lucinda Williams sense of the term, with steel maestro Hoffnar again starring, while the likes of "My Father's Waltz" and "A-Hunting We Will Go" demonstrate why those 'lullaby-related adjectives continually seem to follow Hem around. The former comes on like the most subtle late-night bar-room blues, with Sally delivering that come-on chorus "Throw your overcoat over a chair, lay all your lazybones down" to perfection, while "A-Hunting We Will Go" benefits from bearded giant Gary Maurer's delicate flecks of mandolin and Heather Zimmermann's tasteful violin.

The resolutely non-indie crowd are unwilling to let them go without several encores, and they respond to the challenge beautifully by redesigning obscure Bruce Springsteen numbers and launching into a full-blooded version of traditional folk tune "The Cuckoo", complete with Hoffnar's stinging dobro lines. It's an equally radical rethink to the Cash and Springsteen numbers and shows Hem are a confidently versatile ensemble who are keen to inject fresh blood into a number of great American genres. "Eveningland" is an artful triumph of subtle skill, intiutive playing and a magical vocalist and damn me if they can't get close to reproducing it live as well.
  author: TIM PEACOCK/Hem Photos: KATE FOX

[Show all reviews for this Artist]

READERS COMMENTS    9 comments still available (max 10)    [Click here to add your own comments]

I'd never heard of H.E.M. but was lovestruck and invited by the girl that held my heart. How could I say no? She bought me a drink and I kept the glass, that and my ticket stub are two great tokens from that night. The show was superb. Everytime I listen to H.E.M. it brings by right back to Cork and her, a tough feat since I'm in Minnesota, USA! Beautiful and original, and most of all it reminds me of my favorite times...

I love you Carol! Thanks for inviting me to that show! x

------------- Author: idlepush   09 December 2005

HEM/ TILSTON, MARTHA - Cork, Cyprus Avenue, 4th March 2005
HEM/ TILSTON, MARTHA - Cork, Cyprus Avenue, 4th March 2005
HEM/ TILSTON, MARTHA - Cork, Cyprus Avenue, 4th March 2005