I first heard the song "Almost" on a compilation CD from Paste magazine. It was easily the best song on the CD (which had some other great songs on it), and I found myself playing and re-playing that song in particular. It's catchy but not at all annoying; memorable and surprisingly subtle. After the tenth listen or so, I knew I'd have to have this album just to see if the rest of it was as good.
As it turns out, it's even better. The variety of songs on "All of Our Names" is in itself a good reason to buy the album, and the quality of the writing and performance is another.
On this album one finds all sorts of songs, from the catchy hooks of "Almost" and "Pendulums" to the smooth and steady "Things to Forget" to the dark "Took It All" to the slow, sad, folk sound of "Dandelions in Bullet Holes." These are not simple songs, either, but complex pieces which reveal themselves slowly, new aspects showing themselves with each hearing. "Dandelions," for example, didn't impress me much when I first heard it, but by the second or third listening it had me nearly in tears with the emotions it evoked in me. Between the variety and the complexity of the songs, the album as a whole stands up to multiple listenings remarkably well. In fact, I've had it in my CD player pretty much constantly since I got it several weeks ago, and I have yet to tire of it.
The album has a remarkable mix of sound to it, somehow very professional and deeply intimate at the same time. The songs are well-performed, flawlessly constructed, not at all overproduced, and beautifully written. The instrumentation, sometimes a full band and sometimes little more than a guitar and a cello, is powerful but never overblown, and really highlights Harmer's voice perfectly. And when it comes to her voice... well, what more can I say about her singing than I find it utterly charming and a joy to listen to. Sarah doesn't seem to feel the need to showboat her talent like many modern singers do, but the talent is obviously there. The range of emotion expressed just by the words she sings is a large part of the album's intimate sound -- it sounds like she's there in the room with you, murmuring her songs softly into your ear.
And the words she's singing so beautifully are deserving of attention themselves. It's been a long time since I heard lyrics I really appreciated just for how they flowed together, but these words did it for me. Harmer's use of lyrics is unique and often quite moving. There are some great memorable lines in most of the songs ("If I am a sailor, you are the warm Gulf wind, and you've blown into this little port and roused my dreams again" and "Holidays are made for reading, and remembering things that are worth repeating" both stand out in my mind at the moment), but what's really amazing is how they come together in the songs as a whole. Clever, observant, and emotionally honest, the words Harmer uses for each song really add to them, musically and poetically. It's rare that I'm reminded the music with lyrics is really poetry, but Sarah Harmer is truly a poet in what she writes.
I wound up buying one copy of this CD for myself, and a second one for a friend. I will sometimes recommend albums to friends, but I only rarely give them music, as one's musical choices are often such a personal thing. Sarah Harmer, however, is such a standout artist, poetically and musically, that I can't help but think that she can appeal to a great many people... and deservedly so. This is one of the best new albums I've heard in a long time, and I recommend it without reservation.
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Rich Stoehr (GlassIsland)
I often hide behind a pithy Douglas Adams quote or maybe some song lyrics. I guess it makes sense that much of what I share is reviews of things I like (or don't). People … more
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Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer's 2000 debut,You Were Here, was justifiably lauded and it made her a star in her homeland, racking up platinum sales. Four years later she's brought forth an equally engaging set of 11 finely honed songs. After the friendly mid-tempo opener and its tale of roaming the countryside in winter, she fearlessly kicks up the decibel meter with the smartly propulsive "Almost," presenting a lustful crush with appropriate passion and the wallop of a rocker. Throughout it all, Harmer has a gifted eye for the small details that give human scale and resilience to the lyrics. The sense of place evoked is unmistakably linked to her home in Ontario's Quaker Valley, and perhaps not surprisingly,All of Our Nameswas recorded primarily at her rural abode. The album has all the breadth and depth of a work created in a big-city studio, but it also exudes a warmth and intimacy that can be attributed to the care and comfort afforded by the setting.--David Greenberger