Escarpment Blues by Sarah Harmer…Song #17: The Great Canadian Road Trip.
Sarah Harmer has been a singer for most of her adult life. Her career on the musical stages in Canada began when she was in university. She first belonged to a group called The Saddletramps but really gained fame as a member of the Indie band, Weeping Tile. Harmer wrote and sang songs with Weeping Tile while she attended Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. Weeping Tile were big on the Indie and College circuits and, as such, were able to formally release a seven-song cassette called Eepee (which is a clever play on the abbreviation “EP” which stands for an “extended play” or mini album. Releasing Eepee on cassette mirrored how the Barenaked Ladies released their first album…the “Yellow” cassette). I first heard of Sarah Harmer and Weeping Tile by way of a song called “Basement Apt.” which appeared on a compilation CD of Canadian Indie tunes. With the release of their cassette, Weeping Tile were soon signed to a recording contract and Eepee became their first album. Unfortunately, Weeping Tile were unable to rise above their Indie status and never had a breakthrough single. Music being the business that it is, if you aren’t selling enough albums, you end up getting dropped from your label which is what happened to Weeping Tile. The band ended up breaking up not long thereafter.
Sarah Harmer was still young and had her whole life in front of her. She was always interested in the politics of the environmental and women’s movements and started working with groups and politicians on the Left on Canada’s political spectrum. Harmer was always an admirer of Jack Layton, former leader of the New Democratic Party. She believed, as he did, that people have the power to make a difference but that it takes organization and courage to do so. As she became more involved in local issues of note in south western Ontario, Sarah Harmer still found time for music. In fact, as a Christmas gift for her father, Harmer put together an album of original songs and presented it to him. Those who heard this gift of song all felt that it was worthy of a wider audience. That Christmas gift became her debut solo album called Songs For Clem. It was at this time that Harmer realized the potential for combining the personal with the professional. While she knew that she didn’t want to stand on a stage and preach to her audiences, she did understand that she had a platform that was unavailable to most activists and concerned citizens and so she decided to give music a more concerted effort.
Her follow-up album was called You Were Here, which made a hit out of her first song of note, “Basement Apt.”, as well as, “Don’t Get Your Back Up”. This album went Platinum in Canada and was rated by Time Magazine as being one of the best solo female albums of the year in 2000. As a solo artist, Sarah Harmer has won numerous Juno Awards, has two Gold records and one Platinum. She has toured with anyone and everyone of note in the Canadian music scene such as Blue Rodeo, the Tragically Hip, Ron Sexsmith, Kathleen Edwards, Great Big Sea and many more. But, as mentioned earlier, while she enjoys being a singer, Sarah Harmer has always found time to support causes near and dear to her heart. This brings us to her song, “Escarpment Blues”.
Harmer was born in Burlington, Ontario. She grew up around places like Hamilton, Brantford and along the shores of Lake Erie. While with her family, they often spent time at the Mount Nemo Conservation Area (which is situated between Hamilton and Burlington). This area is a protected area as granted by UNESCO. This conservation area is known for its biodiversity. It is also a place that houses many minerals that mining companies have coveted for decades. Thus, there have been ongoing battles waged by environmental groups (of which Sarah Harmer belongs) to protect Mount Nemo and, by extension, the environmental integrity of the larger area known as the Niagara Escarpment. As of the date of this post, Harmer’s groups have been successful in staving off the mining companies who keep applying for permits to mine Mount Nemo. However, in Ontario at the moment, we have a provincial government that seems to listen more to donors with dollars than they do to environmentalists with a passion for bogs and marshes. So, the threat to the Niagara Escarpment goes on. To help her side, Harmer recorded a song called “Escarpment Blues”. Like all great protest songs, “Escarpment Blues” takes her opponents to task. Sarah Harmer uses her voice to sing about the consequences to our aquifers when we choose roads over water systems. In the spirit of Bruce Cockburn’s, “If I Had A Rocket Launcher”, Sarah Harmer has created a beautiful sounding song that packs a terrific punch. I hope that you will listen to it and learn a bit more about this issue, all the while enjoying Harmer’s beautiful and distinctive singing style. She is one of our best singer/songwriters for a reason.
If you have any opinions on environmental issues, on the Niagara Escarpment or on the career of Canada’s own, Sarah Harmer, feel free to drop them off in the comment box below. I look forward to reading your replies.
The link to the video for the song, “Escarpment Blues” by Sarah Harmer can be found here. ***Sorry, there appears to not be a lyrics video for this song.
The link to the official website for Sarah Harmer can be found here.
The link to the official website for the Mount Nemo Conservation Area can be found here.
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