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Sarah Harmer

ALL OF OUR NAMES • Sarah Harmer

Sometimes the inside of a singer-songwriter's head can seem like an uncomfortable, if not downright dodgy, place to visit. In other cases, you just want to wander further and endlessly into that spellbinding interior. Enter Sarah Harmer. Her latest CD, All Of Our Names (released in 2004), is one of those rare collections of songs that manages to be personal and global, catchy and inspiring, familiar and strange, all at once. Harmer is among the current wave of Canadian artists of all stripes (for example, Kathleen Edwards and David Francey) making their mark both at home and here in the States. All Of Our Names won her a Juno award (the Canadian Grammy) in the Adult Alternative category and garnered raves in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

Harmer crafts quirky yet infectious melodies and sometimes chases the lyric past the usual rhymed break, like she's following a butterfly or a bird. She has a gift for making such melodic and lyrical wanderings seem natural, not contrived as they might in the hands of a lesser songsmith. In that same vein, All Of Our Names seems like an album of moments caught, examined, and set free. Not merely songs of heartbreak here, but reflections on time--check out "Pendulums" or "Things To Forget" ("I gotta put some things in the ground / even with this season coming around / It's green's last gasp / and leaves brown / And Autumn days are winding down")--and expressions of hope as in "Dandelions And Bullet Holes" ("this call to arms means wrap them around / the first person you see"). Her voice is by turns haunting and high, straightforward--almost conversational--or husky, with a breathy catch. It never fails to evoke the emotional tenor of her song.

The musical settings for Harmer's writing are upbeat, but not raucous. There's a nice, jangly, bell-like tone to the guitars, and the mix gives her vocals the space they deserve. A wurlitzer floats in and out while other instruments like cello, trumpet, or synth add fleeting color. Driving the sounds are tight rhythms that counterpoint Harmer's own hip and offbeat approach to phrasing.

There's a lot to explore within even this small piece of Sarah Harmer's interior world. In the chorus of "Almost", she sings, "If I am the sailor / you are the warm gulf wind / and you've blown into this little port / and roused my dreams again." By the time you emerge from All Of Our Names, you may feel just that way. • Judith Edelman

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