Sarah Harmer

Songs for Clem

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Sarah Harmer originally intended her warmly intimate recording Songs for Clem as a gift for her father but eventually self-released the album to the general public, and later saw the album issued as part of her deal with Universal Canada. This was a stroke of quiet genius, since now dads everywhere -- and anyone else, really -- can revel in gorgeous, startlingly organic collection of country favorites and old standards, all rendered with back-porch flavor by Harmer and collaborator Jason Euringer. Clem feels lovingly handmade, with cover art right out of a child's Father's Day art project and an immediate, field-type recording quality that features accompaniment from crickets and a passing rainstorm. This isn't to say it's lo-fi; on the contrary, it's crystal clear. But the album's homey feel still seeps into every note. This is one of its great qualities, but the songs are pretty damn great, too. Harmer has a wonderful voice, and here she's given an opportunity to show its reedy beauty in a host of different styles. On "Tennessee Waltz" she's an acoustic countrypolitan songbird, but shifts to an easy-to-please, smoky jazz style for "Black Coffee." In addition to Harmer's and Euringer's voices and acoustic guitars, Clem is filled out by contributions from piano, trumpet, harmonica (on the campfire favorite "Oh Bury Me Not," complete with crickets), and a clarinet on "Just a Closer Walk With Thee," which also features a few friends on chorus vocals. It couldn't be more authentic if it was recorded at a Sunday Southern Baptist picnic. The hope of Nanci Griffith's bittersweet "Trouble in the Fields" is tinged with heartbreak, and the instrumental "O, My Beloved Father" closes Songs for Clem on a wistful, slightly melancholy note. But in between, there's a fun run through "You're Cheatin' Heart," the sultry favorite "Summertime," and an off-the-cuff, parlor version of "Sentimental Journey." That is, of course, if your parlor is on your back porch. Harmer's Songs for Clem will certainly appeal to fans of the singer's official debut, 2000's You Were Here. But it's a true sentimental journey for people inspired by their parents to love music.

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