Sarah Harmer I'm A Mountain

After this spring’s environmental awareness-raising "I Love the Escarpment” tour, in which Sarah Harmer turned from pop songstress to activist for the Southern Ontario old-growth forest she stomped through as a child — and with a slew of acoustically inclined new songs at hand — she headed into the studio. The result, I’m A Mountain, is a wonderful record that showcases Harmer’s powerhouse vocals that hew more to Dolly Parton country than radio-friendly pop. Whether it’s the upbeat, upright bass driven Michelle Shocked-ian title track, a heartfelt rendition of Kate Fenner and Chris Brown’s "Salamandre,” or the Parton cover, "Will He Be Waiting For Me,” I’m A Mountain is an easy, heartfelt and stunningly beautiful record. It feels like a comfy sweater for Harmer, for whom country music has always been a foundation. While a bluegrass revival for this native of the Niagara region would be welcome, such a narrow path simply can’t contain her diverse interests. We’ll just have to enjoy this pit stop for its myriad delights.

Do you consider this album a side-road to your "pop” career? I had this idea to record an album with my dad [following 1999’s folkie dad tribute Songs For Clem], but it turned into more of an original record. If my dad had his way, we’d be covering "The Rose,” so we changed the idea a little. At the end of the "Escarpment” tour, we were all warmed up — it was simple music, lots of singing and playing, fun easy stuff. I love singing folk stuff, but I also love listening to the radio and hearing something really big. I aspire to do that [next] — work with a producer, doing something bigger. It’s nice to have the freedom to follow your musical whim.

Your profile gives you some influence as an activist. Well, I have access to the media and a lot of people don’t. Yes, I’m a musician, but I’m not coming to this without a lot of knowledge. [Environmental issues surrounding the Escarpment] dig into the soil of what we’re doing. There’s nothing more important than protecting land, protecting water. You have to remember that the oldest trees east of the Rockies are on the Niagara Escarpment: 1000-year-old cedars. I do believe people have power as long as they have enough belief in that and put five minutes into writing a letter or making a call to hold the government accountable. And I wrote a song called "Escarpment Blues,” which was a melding of the two worlds. I just feel privileged to have grown up on the Escarpment; it’s beautiful. I gotta speak up for it. (Universal)