Canadian musicians have long found it necessary to come south to the US of A if they want to make it big. Sarah Harmer is one of a long line of Canadians lured stateside by the siren’s song music machine. Like fellow Canadians, the Bare Naked Ladies, her music is intelligent, quirky, and very much her own
This is her second solo album. Her first, Songs for Clem, was put together as personal project for her father and contained a set’s worth of popular country songs. You Were Here has original material and is her first American release on Rounder’s special pop division, Zoe records.
Ontario native Harmer is joined by Luther Wright on guitar, Maury Lafoy on bass, Gavin Brown, Damon Richardson, and Gam Giroux on drums, Spencer Evans on clarinet, Kevin Fox on cello, Benjamin Perosin on trumpet, and recording engineer and mixer Pete Prilesnik on bass, dobro, guitar, and “beats.”
All the songs on You Were There have spartan, yet delicate, arrangements which allow the lyrics and melodies to come through without excessive packaging or artificial histrionics. The most striking instrument on this CD is Sarah’s voice. It is both intimate and compelling. Her natural, unaffected vocals are arresting without being theatrical or artificial.
Harmer’s songs sit midway between the two extremes of slick tin pan alley pop confections and rudimentary soul-bearing primal scream scree. The melodies have hooks and bridges, but the music’s primary purpose is to serve the lyrics rather than just sound nice. Instead of merely humming along you’ll find yourself singing the words as well. “Basement Apartment” and “Lodestar” are my two favorite songs on the album. Both have a slightly heroic quality coupled with a self depreciating edge. No, you won’t find any classic rock guitar solos here, but you will find plenty of alluring music with both heart and soul. See http://www.rounder.com.
This review originally appeared in VG‘s Feb. ’01 issue.