Harmer Shows Her Range

When she went into the studio to record her latest album, Sarah Hamer knew exactly what she wanted, and the project was recorded, mixed and mastered within a week.

When Canadian singer/songwriter Sarah Harmer went into Toronto's Reaction Studio in July 2005 to record "I'm a Mountain," her first album in two years, she knew exactly what she wanted.

The project was recorded, mixed and mastered within a week. The brevity was in part due to the fact that Harmer and her band were coming off a tour where they had already worked up much of the material.

"There's nothing like confidence when you [are] in the studio," Harmer says. "We were feeling really good."

That confidence clearly shows. The album is garnering Harmer some of the best reviews of her career in the United States in such publications as Time and The New York Times.

Zöe/Rounder is hoping that advance word on the album, released Feb. 7 in the United States, will translate to sales for the artist, who has been a critical darling in Canada for years.

The genesis of the album took shape last summer when the 35-year-old artist hiked and performed in southern Ontario with concert proceeds benefiting an advocacy group trying to preserve the Niagara Escarpment that winds through the region.

"She had the confidence to put the songs onto the CD without much production," BBC2 announcer Bob Harris says. "The natural setting highlights the strength of the songs, and her great voice. She sounds as if she really has her heart in this album."

Harmer's manager, Patrick Sambrook of Eggplant Entertainment in Toronto, adds, "The album didn't come from a commercial place. It came from touring and getting great players together."

"I'm a Mountain" is the follow-up to Harmer's 2004 album, "All of Our Names." In Canada, the new album was issued Nov. 8 on Harmer's own Cold Snap Records, which is distributed by Universal Music Canada. As of Jan. 22, it has sold 25,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan. The album comes out on Rounder March 6 in Europe.

Harmer's 2000 debut, "You Were Here," was first issued in Canada by Cold Snap, and was initially only available via mail order or at Harmer's shows. She financed the album herself without seeking major-label backing. Rounder and Universal Music Canada separately licensed her to their respective territories in 2000.

"You Were Here" has scanned 115,000 units in Canada and 74,000 units in the United States, making it her top-selling effort.

"I'm a Mountain" is centered on Harmer's observations on nature, relationships and humanity. Whereas "Escarpment Blues" and "Salamandre" (written by friends Kate Fenner and Chris Brown) are specifically connected to Harmer's environmental advocacy, "Luther's Got the Blues" is a wry character sketch and "Goin' Out" was written for an AIDS vigil. There is also a fine cover of Dolly Parton's "Will He Be Waiting for Me?"

This month, Harmer opens a 36-date North American tour. Included is a March 17 stop at the South by Southwest Music and Media Conference in Austin, Texas. The leg will be followed by stints in Europe and Australia.