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.”
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