A Personal Journey with Sarah Harmer's 2000 release, You Were Here

The beginning of my relationship with Sarah Harmer’s 2000 release, You Were Here, coincided with my first year at WYEP-FM, Pittsburgh. This was also when I first met Sarah when she stopped by the station for an in-studio performance. Since then, when Sarah visits Pittsburgh, I always volunteer to transport her from the airport to the station, from the station to her performance venue or hotel. Once we even had Thai food following a show. If Sarah comes by Pittsburgh and I’m not at the radio station, she asks if “that guy with the bandana” is still around (while not a first name basis, that's still something).

What follows is a hybrid of the review I wrote of You Were Here back in the early Winter of 2000. Included are some personal experiences and new insights that I've had in the 13 years since.

As the wintry months approach, we tend to need some extra warmth and smiles--Sarah Harmer’s You Were Here provides us with just that, thanks to bittersweet songwriting and her dulcet vocals. Keen on details and seeing issues from both sides, Harmer creates poetic snapshots of everyday life.

The opening cut “Around This Corner” mournfully asks, Why do they call it the past/when nothing has passed? However, by the time you reach “The Hideout,” some optimism begins to surface--Harmer suggests that an unexpected rain is okay because the grass is happy/and I think "so am I" / cause I’m through thinking about you. We are reassured on “Don’t Get Your Back Up” that when relationships fail, it is often for the best. However, Harmer knows this is easier said than done. On the album's title track “You Were Here,” she admits I could lie to myself/and say I like it/but I would love it/if you were still here.

Harmer’s success on the record stems out the honesty behind her voice and her ability to create simple truths through details. Whether with “Basement Apartment” where the tap drips all night/water torture in the sink or “You Were Here” in which these words on paper smell like you, Harmer proves the adage, it’s the little things that kill. A shining example of this is in her two-minute heartbreaker, “Coffee Stain,” where she states: I knew by the time on the stove that you were no longer mine alone.

An excellent wordsmith, the listener can even overcome the “sweet” dissonance created on "You Were Here" and "Capsized." In general though, carefree instrumentation accompanies Harmer and perfectly complements her whimsy vocal styling, in turn, creating an album that allows the listener to daydream and drift away. A required addition to your musical library, “You Were Here” will definitely keep you company throughout the winter months and far into the future.

And in fact, it has. Since 2000, You Were Here never strayed far from my CD player (now, playlist). The release of You Were Here also overlapped with the demise of my college relationship and first true heartbreak. The title track stuck with me until I was truly able to overcome my post-college break-up, at which time “The Hideout” became my new mantra.

As I continued to do overnight radio shows, I couldn’t help but think think of “Everytime” as I’d drive home at 5:30am, “Look at all the poor bastards, gotta go to work while I sleep.”  When I introduced a friend of mine to Sarah Harmer’s music, it coincided with her moving into a basement apartment where we did watch TV all night underground.

But interestingly, the song that is now the most meaningful to me is “Open Window (the wedding song).” A song that speaks of the penultimate declaration of love had no place in my heartbroken state of mind back in 2000 … in fact, it was so chipper I’d often skip passed it for the sullen “Uniform Grey.”

However, when planning my own wedding, the first dance came down to Ray Lamontagne’s “Can I Stay,” Ryan Adam’s “When the Stars Go Blue,” or "Open Window"… and Sarah Harmer won.

Sarah Harmer has released some amazing work since, including her follow-up, All of Our Names (2004),  I'm a Mountain (2005) and Oh Little Fire (2010) ... but for me and my personal experiences, I doubt she will ever produce an album that means more to me than You Were Here.

Adam Kukic is the host of The Coffeehouse on 91.3-FM, PIttsburgh. The Coffeehouse is the perfect complement to your coffee maker percolating on Sunday morning's from 8am- 11am (EST). Tune in online at www.wyep.org

Preceding The Coffeehouse is Folk Alley ... and following The Coffeehouse is the Roots & Rhythm Mix

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Tags: Ray Lamontagne, Ryan Adams, Sarah Harmer

Comment by newsgirlstacy on April 3, 2014 at 8:47am

Thanks for writing this, Adam. I loved this album, too, and for many of the same reasons you mentioned. It's been way too long since I've listened to it lately -- so thanks for bringing it back to mind, and definitely back to my playlist today!

Comment by Adam Kukic on April 3, 2014 at 8:56am

Thanks, Stacy ... I'm happy to hear that you'll be listening to You Were Here today :)

I'm glad to know that you related to the album as well ... it truly helped me through a very rough time ... as well as kept me company for some of the happiest times, too! In writing this, I realize it's been almost four years since she's released an album ... I hope there's new music from Sarah Harmer sometime soon ... I've missed her!

Comment by newsgirlstacy on April 3, 2014 at 6:05pm

Hey, good point! I hope so too.

Comment by monica jones on April 11, 2014 at 8:15am

I had not heard of Sarah Harmer when my husband suggested we go hear her around the time "You Were Here" came out. It was one of those magical evenings when the music was fresh and new. I had no expectations. Yes, it' s been too long since I listened to this one.

Comment by Ms H on April 11, 2014 at 8:19am

Ms. Harmer is one of my favorites, too--lyrically and melodically.  I have had all of her music on heavy rotation at one time or another (including the 1999 album she did for her father, "Songs For Clem," as well as her DVD "Sarah Harmer: Escarpment Blues").  I miss her since "Oh Little Fire" was released, but I think right now she has a higher calling.  Her environmental activism has been taking up most of her time, it seems.  I hope she can channel some of that energy into a new album soon.

Comment by Adam Kukic on April 11, 2014 at 12:36pm

Monica- I'm glad this post reminded you of this album. The experience that you described parallels the many times that I've been fortunate enough to see her.

Ms. H.- Sarah is definitely an active environmentalist. There are two personal experiences that stand out in my mind. Once, I drove her from the radio station to her performance venue. It was a pretty hot Summer in Pittsburgh and the air-conidtioner was on in my car (I usually drive with the windows down, but I wanted to make sure she was comfortable). The load-in entrance to the venue wasn't open, so I told her I'd walk around the building and see if we could get someone to let us in ... as I was about to shut the car door she rolled down the windows and shut-off my ignition. I suggested she could keep the AC/car running, but she was more comfortable with the windows down knowing that we weren't polluting ("polluting" might not be the exact word she used, but it was definitely the point).

Then there was a time I picked her up for the airport ... we ended up stuck in traffic on the highway. We both lamented the sprwal and the depletion of woods and farms in favor of strip malls and housing developments. 

I know she's valiantly fighting for many causes that are important to her (and important to the planet) ... maybe when she needs a break, she'll put her pen to paper one more time.

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Created by No Depression Feb 17, 2009 at 9:06pm. Last updated by No Depression Sep 24, 2012.