ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, NOV. 2, 2000
Sarah Harmer is a good daughter. And I’m not just saying that because, when the Ontario singer-songwriter rings the Straight, she’s calling from the basement of Chalmers United Church in Guelph. (Her trio is playing an all-ages show there that night.) No, Sarah Harmer is a good daughter because, before releasing her current solo CD, You Were Here, she recorded an album of old country and jazz favourites for her dad.
On Songs for Clem, which was taped live on her back porch, Harmer included tunes like “Your Cheatin’ Heart”, “Sentimental Journey”, and “Trouble in the Fields”. Any father would be impressed by that. “My dad’s a farmer,” says Harmer, “so I did a bunch of songs I thought he’d like to sing along to.”
While Songs for Clem had a very personal focus, it also garnered the attention of Billboard contributor Larry LeBlanc, a high-profile proponent of Canadian music, who named it among his top 10 albums of 1999. Don’t be surprised if Harmer’s excellent new disc—a fitting follow-up to the three CDs she released with former group Weeping Tile—makes a bunch more best-of lists for 2000. The switch to a solo format seemed like a natural one for the Kingston native.
“We had done a bit more of a stripped-down acoustic tour with Weeping Tile in the U.S. Midwest,” she relates, “and at the end of that we just packed it up for a little while. I started to play solo shows, just a bunch of troubadour-type shows, and decided to just pare it right down, speak from one place for a while.”
Vancouverites get their second chance to hear Harmer in her post–Weeping Tile phase at Richard’s on Richards on Wednesday (November 8), during a free promotional show. She was here a month ago, warming up for Billy Bragg at the Vogue, and also opened for the socially conscious Brit in Seattle, Portland, Chicago, and Minneapolis.
“He’s a funny guy,” reveals Harmer. “He’s real nice. And I like his level of attachment to his politics, and how he kind of incorporates that message into his musical career.”
The same night as Harmer’s local gig with Bragg, GM Place played host to Neil Young, an artist who holds a special place in Harmer’s heart. She got her first guitar at age 17, for the sole purpose of being able to sing and play his early songs. And the Can-Am codger still inspires.
“I just went and saw him for the first time about a month and a half ago in Toronto,” she says, “and he was on fire. He was singing really well, and playing great guitar. He’s just got a lot of feel, you can’t deny it. I got there right as Neil was busting into ‘Powderfinger’, and it never got better than that for me.”