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Sarah Harmer comes to Summerside on tour in support of her new album

by Natalie Pendergast

Sarah Harmer could talk at length about the Platinum-selling success of her sophomore release, 2000’s You Were Here, or that of her 2005 album, Juno Award winner All of Our Names, or even any one of her chart-topping hits. But the down-to-earth chanteuse has her mind and heart focused on more ground-breaking issues. She wants to help stop big gravel companies from digging up Ontario’s Niagara Escarpment, the natural habitat of many endangered species.

For the past year and a half, Harmer has been merging her musical pursuits with promoting awareness about the protection of this delicate terrain. After co-founding the volunteer organization, Protecting Escarpment Rural Land (PERL), she and her band traveled for two weeks on foot along the Escarpment’s Bruce Trail, performing at theatres and concert halls all the way.

“It was an idea that came about because I wanted to stop driving three hours between gigs and only seeing the scenery from the window of a van,” she says over the phone.

Being immersed in nature and unplugged from typical touring chaos, Harmer was able to tap into a simpler side of song-writing. By the end of her trip, she had an album ready in mind, and by November 2005, I am a Mountain was on record store shelves everywhere.

“The songs that I was stock-piling aside were kind of simple in nature,” she explains, “Recording took four days, and we didn’t need too much in the way of equipment to create the sound that was appropriate for the songs.”

The effect produced by this simplicity is Harmer’s most intimate and sentimental sounding album to date. She describes it as creating a “relationship between nature and imagination,” and “telling new versions of old stories in song.” Consistent with her reputation, I am a Mountain’s lyrics are poetic and metaphorical, with personal anecdotes dedicated to loved ones. And in some cases, songs even feature loved ones. Harmer’s father performed with her on tracks “Goin’ Out” and “Oleander.”

“It was really a treat (to work with him). My Dad and I have been singing together and with my sisters forever so this was very enjoyable and I think he got a kick out of it too,” she laughs.

Harmer’s cover of Dolly Parton’s “Will he be Waiting for Me,” fits well on the country and bluegrass-fused album. Although her progression toward this style is slightly different from her early career’s more pop-rock direction, Harmer says the country and bluegrass influence has always been there. “It comes pretty naturally to me as far as the simple harmonies and arrangements; maybe because I grew up going to church and was singing that way as a kid,” she says.

Harmer may have found a balance between the fast-paced life of a mainstream artist and a die-hard nature-lover, but she still gives in to technology every once in a while, “I’m talking to you on a Blackberry right now so it’s only an illusion that I’m free of machines!”

Sarah Harmer and her I am a Mountain band play the Jubilee Theatre in Summerside in September.

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