Five years is a long time between albums in the pop music world.
Many artists would have released at least two studio CDs during that time, maybe a DVD and a live album as well.
We can excuse Sarah Harmer’s long break between albums, though. She’s been preoccupied.
For the past five years, Harmer has been at the centre of a fight to block a proposed gravel quarry on a picturesque piece of the Niagara Escarpment near her childhood home in rural north Burlington, Ont.
The Juno-winning singer-songwriter’s time has been taken up with raising funds, hiring consultants, lobbying politicians, studying scientific reports and prepping for a seemingly endless series of land-use hearings.
If anything, it’s surprising that she found any time at all to write and record her new CD, Oh Little Fire, which was released this week.
“Yeah, it was a long time coming,” Harmer agrees in an interview from her home near Kingston. “But perspective is pretty important when it comes to time.”
Harmer admits it wasn’t easy to pick up songs that, in some cases, she had started years earlier.
“I started a few of them a long time ago,” she explains. “I’d have an idea for a song — a melody, a verse, a little bit of sentiment — to get back to it and make something complete, that took a while.”
Her previous album, I’m a Mountain, was released in 2005 shortly after she had formed the environmental group PERL (Protecting Escarpment Rural Land) to fight the quarry proposal. It was an acoustic record with a country tinge and filled with the politics of the environment. It made the short list for the Polaris Music Prize for top Canadian album. An accompanying DVD won a Juno award.
Politics is largely absent from the songs of Oh Little Fire. One track, Washington, is about her regret at not travelling to the U.S. capital for President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Songs about the environment, however, are noticeably lacking.
“No, there aren’t any overt land-use issues commented on,” she laughs. “It’s definitely an album based around human emotions, experiences and relationships from a personal perspective.”
To help guide her transition back to the recording studio, Harmer reached out to old friend and producer Gavin Brown. Brown, best known for his work with rock bands like Billy Talent, had played drums on Harmer’s 2000 breakthrough album, You Were Here.
Brown’s influence brought electric guitars and keyboards back into the mix. Only one track — Silverado, sung with the help of alt-country queen Neko Case — contains the rootsy feel of I’m A Mountain.
“(Brown) was a huge part of making this record,” she says. “He really kicked it in for me. ... I had all these songs in my mind for a long time. He helped me express them.”