Although Sarah Dougher got her start in scrappy little indie punk bands like the Crabs during the K Records/cuddlecore heyday, she also has a doctorate in comparative literature and a day job in the Women's Studies department of Portland State University. It's that side of Dougher that most heavily influences Harper's Arrow, an album based on a multimedia show she premiered and toured with in 2003. The 16 songs on this album are an impressionistic song cycle conflating imagery from Homer's Odyssey and media coverage of the Iraq War, performed with a full band but with sparse arrangements that put the listener's focus squarely on Dougher's voice and lyrics. Just as that description suggests, Harper's Arrow is not exactly the most lighthearted and whimsical album ever made: this is by some measure the most serious and politically pointed music Dougher has yet written. But it's not sanctimoniously "good for you" in the crunchy granola sense, either: Dougher's literary background and her roots in the non-preachy show-don't-tell world of indie pop keep even songs as potentially hectoring as "It's a God Damned Lie" from being merely preachy, and the folk-punk vibe of the album meshes well with her artless but appealing vocals. Quiet, poetic and thoughtful, Harper's Arrow is worlds removed from Sarah Dougher's earliest work, but it remains connected to the personal-is-political ethos of her roots.
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AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason