Jun 01, 2011 Web Exclusive
When you’re a 40-year veteran of the music business like Emmylou Harris and you’re about to make your 21st solo studio album, it’s not like you need anyone to tell you what to do. And so it goes on her latest effort Hard Bargain, produced by Jay Joyce, who wisely keeps the arrangement simple and understated.
Devoid of Harris’ traditional guest stars, Bargain aims the spotlight at the singer herself, highlighting her famous acoustic guitar and crackly voice. Topically, however, Harris is ruminating on those around her: Bargain reflects on her singing partners, her friends and a cast of narrative characters, ranging from a stray dog to a young victim of racism in Mississippi.
Harris, who was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2008, wears her best hat here: that of the melancholy raconteur. Standouts include lilting ballads such as “The Ship on His Arm,” and “Darlin’ Kate,” where Harris eulogizes her friend and music partner Kate McGarrigle. Similarly, “The Road” is an aching tribute to Harris’ late mentor Gram Parsons.
She also wanders into uptempo territory with the rockabilly stomp of “Six White Cadillacs”; another track, “New Orleans,” explores the post-Katrina Southern city with a surprisingly raucous beat. Though a plaintive cover of Ron Sexsmith’s “Hard Bargain” gives the album its title, Harris’ expert earnestness is all her own. (www.emmylouharris.com)
Author rating: 7/10
Average reader rating: 9/10