Sarah Harmer

You Were Here

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Sarah Harmer's first solo effort, You Were Here, doesn't allow a simple categorization of style or reveal a sweeping trend in progress. But it is certain that she is an artist choosing wisely from a great scope of colors. With a pleasing and misleading start, the rollicking opening track asserts its individuality with a Vaudevillian clarinet, keeping one foot in Kinks pop and one in some elusive species of country rock. The next track leaps into the present, utilizing rhythms that sound somewhat synthesized in the mode of David Gray. "The Hideout," having appeared also on a Starbucks coffeehouse compilation disc, has the feel of Neil Young circa Harvest, and becomes a powerful single with its heavy drum line, bold "fifths" chords, and strong chorus with a memorable hook. Moving on, the energy level quickly drops to a spare meditation, featuring vocal, guitar, subtle organ, and the dark psychology of the lyrics. This ebb and flow proves to be the experience throughout You Were Here. Songs may begin with a soft acoustic, then unfold assuredly toward their climax. Various instruments add character now and then, such as a muted trumpet or a harmonica, and the energy level can sway between a lullaby and full pop treatment with a definite destination. The music can also have a heavier edge, driven at times by a malcontent electric guitar. Throughout, the cello is a recurrent staple, as is Harmer's self-harmonized lead vocal. In conjunction with her sonorous, folky vibrato, the melodies are built of simplicity and sweetness, making it an easy album to latch onto. Produced by Harmer herself, along with Peter Prilesnik, You Were Here is keen to a number of musical influences. Her Canadian nationality notwithstanding, there is more than a whisper of Joni Mitchell or Ron Sexsmith in the music. Moments which might feel slow or meandering could likewise feel pensive, meditative, or gather interest from their potential to reveal something more. The lyrics are observational yet detached, and poetic without being arcane -- the album as a whole feels sincere, answering to a variety of moods and whims. It is a work of quality, from the songwriting clear to the production.

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