Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer made her debut in 1999 with Songs for Clem, an album of pop and country covers that she recorded for her father as a Christmas present. Sarah had no intention of releasing it publicly while recording it but the reaction she received from family and friends convinced her to. She followed that up with second album You Were Here in 2000, which was certified Platinum in Canada, and in 2004 she hit number 6 on the Canadian charts with third album All of Our Names. I’m a Mountain followed in 2005 and Harmer released her last album, Oh Little Fire, in 2010.
A decade on from the release of that album, Sarah is back with her sixth studio album Are You Gone. Described by Sarah as a spiritual successor to 2000’s You Were Here, Are You Gone features 11 new songs and it includes the 2018 release What I Was To You from The Al Purdy Songbook. With Sarah being absent from releasing new music the past 10 years, it’s been interesting for her fans to wonder what she’s going to come back with. The good news is that Are You Gone features all of the things you’d want from a Sarah Harmer record, delving into the personal and addressing societal issues.
Folk meets alt-rock is the order of the day across these 12 tracks that demand to be listened to over and over. The seductively lilting St Peter’s Bay opens the record and the minute you hear Sarah’s vocals, you realise just how much you’ve missed her. She switches between a speak-sing delivery, frequently pushing to her upper range with great effect. Sarah has always been a remarkable storyteller and she’s as compelling here as she’s always been. The tempo switches on the punchy New Low, a storming pop/rock moment that breezes along with an infectious melody.
One of the most personal tracks on the album is What I Was To You, a mid-tempo number with a bouncy guitar melody that’s a tribute to Sarah’s late friend Gord Downie, who was the frontman for The Tragically Hip. It’s a beautiful reflection on a friendship that clearly meant a lot to Sarah as tells the listener that she knew what she meant to him. Elsewhere on the record the atmospheric Just Get Here keeps the production simple allowing Sarah’s voice to envelop your ears, the breezy light rock of Take Me Out is a pure delight and Cowbirds is a bouncy track that tells the story of a man who gives more than he gets back in life.
The Lookout, which sits in the middle of the track listing is one of the moments that I kept going back to. The piano-led intro broadens out with a stomping beat and the tempo changes throughout the track. Sonically it’s one of the most interesting compositions on the record and lyrically it talks about Sarah’s retreat from city life to the countryside.
The album slows down the tempo for its final songs with acoustic ballad Shoemaker once again putting Sarah’s ability as a storyteller into the spotlight. There’s something so powerful about her music when her voice drives the production. The final track is See Her Wave (for Jacqui), which veers into Country territory as Sarah harmonises with a male vocal. It’s a beautiful end to an album that is packed full of layers to peel back.
Are You Gone is a welcome return for Sarah. She’s one of the most gifted storytellers in music and her music is always worthy of your time and attention. It may have been a long wait for this record to arrive but it won’t disappoint. Fans of fantastic storytelling, personal and relatable lyrics, and gorgeous production should get themselves a copy of Are You Gone and thank me for it later.
Track list: 1. St Peter’s Bay 2. New Low 3. Just Get Here 4. Take Me Out 5. Squeaking Voices 6. What I Was To You 7. The Lookout 8. Wildlife 9. Cowbirds 10. Little Frogs 11. Shoemaker 12. See Her Wave (For Jacqui) Released by: Arts & Crafts Release date: 21st February 2020 Buy Are You Gone