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CD Review: Sarah Harmer, "Oh Little Fire"

SARAH HARMER, Oh Little Fire

(Out now)

Sarah Harmer has always followed her own path. Her initial breakthrough album, “You Were Here” in 2000 was followed four years later by “All of Our Names,” which netted her the nice little hit “Almost,” and it looked like she was headed for some commercial success in Sarah McLachlan-like territory.

But instead this Sarah took a U-turn and went back home to try to help save her native Canada’s escarpment, and in the process created a wonderful acoustic folk and bluegrass album, “I’m a Mountain.” The 2005 album may have had little commercial appeal but it was a smash with critics and independent-thinking music fans, including this one.So five years later, we had no idea what to expect from “Oh Little Fire,” her new album. And after a couple of listens we’re still a little in the dark.

The album is filled with a group of country, folk and soft-rocking indie-pop tunes.Harmer has said in interviews that she doesn’t want to be tied to a style, which is great. We were not expecting another “I’m a Mountain,” but few of the songs stand out on “Oh Little Fire” the way some of her past successes have.

The album opens with “The Thief,” which sounds like it could have been very much at home on a Laura Veirs album. “New Loneliness” has a nice slinky sound with organ backing up her acoustic. “One Match” offers glimpses of the voice we fell in love with on “Mountain.”

Her voice and her lyrics on such songs as “New Loneliness” have an honesty and sadness to them that makes us think she was going through a rough patch romantically during the making of this album. On “Washington,” she sings: “I didn’t go to Washington/instead I swept the floor. The only things I’ve ever done you can’t see anymore.”  “Silverado’’ gets some beautiful harmonies from fellow Canadian Neko Case,  who seems to be everywhere lately from the New Pornographers to backing Jakob Dylan.

The title “Oh Little Fire” seems to perfectly encapsulate many meanings for the songs on this album. We just wish one of them wasn’t the lack of fire we felt listening to them.

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