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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emmylou Harris - Pays homage to lost friends
In recent years the trilogy of records produced by a completely rejuvenated Emmylou Harris, which starts with the wonders of "Wrecking Ball," climaxes with the brilliant "Red Dirt Girl", and gently lands with the lovely "Stumble into grace" amounted to a peak in Americana music. Harris could barely put a foot wrong and the awards flowed like wine. There have since been a...
Published on 26 April 2011 by Red on Black

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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hard listen
Finest work? Best ever? Better than 'All I intended to be'? Come on! I think there are half a dozen decent tracks here, the remainder are so depressing I really don't want more than one listen. 'Emmett Till' and 'Darlin Kate' may be well-intentioned and personal but boy do they drag. 'Big Black Dog' is embarrassing, whatever Emmylou's involvement with canine welfare. She...
Published on 3 May 2011 by Arthurly


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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Emmylou Harris - Pays homage to lost friends, 26 April 2011
By 
Red on Black - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 50 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
In recent years the trilogy of records produced by a completely rejuvenated Emmylou Harris, which starts with the wonders of "Wrecking Ball," climaxes with the brilliant "Red Dirt Girl", and gently lands with the lovely "Stumble into grace" amounted to a peak in Americana music. Harris could barely put a foot wrong and the awards flowed like wine. There have since been a couple of missteps on the way since this reviewer is not a huge fan of her collaboration with Mark Knoplfer yet particularly enjoyed the fine covers on "All I intended to be" (although not all the originals).

Many have questioned whether Emmylou Harris is an artist who sings other people's songs better than she writes her own? In a recent interview with NPR she admitted that songwriting doesn't come easy for her: "It's the fear of writing that's still there with me," Consequently with the majority of tracks on "Hard Bargain" self penned does Harris conquer her fear. The answer is yes in most cases but with a couple of songs that absolutely stand out. Her heartbreaking requiem for her dear departed friend the great folk singer Kate Anna McGarrigle is one example and possibly one of the finest tunes she has written. When "she sings that you are sailing now/ free from the pain" it would take a very cold heart not to be deeply moved by its sentiment. Another even closer friend Gram Parsons is again the key subject of the opener "The Road". She has been here before of course not least in "Boulder to Birmingham" her poignant ode capturing the depth of her shock and pain at losing Parsons. While "The Road" is perhaps not in that class, her unique breathy vocals combined with a rock steady beat is a joy and the song's bridge takes it to new levels.

Other noteworthy songs include the shuffling earthy blues of "Six white Cadillac's", the atmospheric country of "Lonely girl", the rocky "New Orleans" and the excellent cover of Ron Sexmith's "Hard Bargain". That said the straightforward country homage to a "Big black dog" has a novelty value but very little else and while the waltz like "Goodnight old world" is ok, but it does drag on. On the basis of concluding with a strong finish the final two tracks "Nobody" and "Cross Yourself" are excellent. They echo a Daniel Lanois style production except that album producer Jay Joyce writes "Cross Yourself" and his pop-related song is a splendid ending. One gripe is quite why her cover of the Low Anthem's alt country classic "To Ohio" sung together with the bands maestro Ben Knox Miller is confined to the deluxe album while weaker songs are included here. This is a outright mystery since it is the best duet that Harris has done since her seminal vocal on Ryan Adams glorious "My Sweet Carolina" and you must promise to seek this out. Throughout the musicianship is "best in class" and "Hard Bargain" represents a fine collection of songs. In the last analysis as a complete album its not in the same class as either "Wrecking ball" or "Red Dirt Girl' but frankly there aren't many albums that could come within a hundred miles of their brilliance. Thus "Hard Bargain" is another fine contribution from Emmylou Harris a singer we should cherish and give thanks that unlike many of her contemporaries she remains a constant source of deeply moving music.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My favourite album so far in 2011, 13 July 2011
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This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
The subject says it for me. It's all to do with personal taste and my ears haven't heard a better album this year - so far.

I have to disagree with Nick Barraclough about the songs here not being up to her usual standard. I think that most of them are better. If I play the whole album and then want to play a couple of tracks again, I'm now torn between all thirteen as to what to pick. I also think "The Road" is better than "Boulder To Birmingham", although the latter is a brilliant song.

Great tracks include the aforementioned "The Road", "My Name Is Emmett Till", "Goodnight Old World", "Lonely Girl", "The Ship on His Arm", "Nobody", "Cross Yourself" and "Hard Bargain" (my favourite, which shows she is still a wonderful interpreter of others' songs - and Ron Sexsmith is a brilliant songsmith - no pun intended); Gosh - that's nearly all of them.

It's just Emmylou, Jay Joyce and Giles Reaves making the music and both guys are brilliant. Emmylou's voice is as good as ever, with that breathy frailty present as usual. She sings all the vocals (no female backing singers required) and her voice is still magnificent whilst, on almost all tracks, she accompanies herself on guitar. Messrs Joyce and Reaves play everything else - Reaves is a very interesting multi-instrumentalist who has released a couple of albums which sound very new age to me, which I am interested in exloring.

So, all in all, Emmylou remains a fine interpreter of others' songs, but her own writing is becoming stellar. For me, she has not put a foot wrong since "Wrecking Ball" and, at 64, looks fabulous in the photos and sounds just as great. I'm still a recent convert to her music and can only tell you how I feel about her music since I fell in love with her. I don't have all the albums, so would not try to argue with anyone who comments that this is not as good as other albums. All I know is that this album "does it for me" in a big way and I'm pleased to have fallen in love with her and her music.

Here's to the next collection of wonderful songs.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As Good As Ever, 4 July 2011
By 
S. Williamson "The Quizman" (Gt. Yarmouth, Norfolk, GB) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
Emmylou is back and what a return.

This is a superb album in every sense, not a 'dodgy' track to be found.

Her lovely voice has lost nothing over the years (I first became aware when I saw her with the legendary 'Hot Band' back in the 1970's.

Difficult to state favourites on this album, as said they are all good, if forced to pick one out I would have to say 'The Road' which is sensational although the title track 'Hard Bargain' and the haunting tribute to Kate McGarrigle "Darlin Kate" is also superb.

Add the short DVD and no-one will regret the small outlay for this album. Well done Emmylou - keep up the good work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Carefully manufactured, 6 Jun 2011
By 
Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
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This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
Any record by Emmylou Harris is inevitably going to be compared with her extensive and impressive, almost unparalleled, back-catalogue, and Hard Bargain has a particularly hard job in having as its predecessor All I Intended To Be, upon which Harris's own talents were perfectly complemented by a set of talented and exciting backing musicians, including Harris's go-to guy Buddy Miller.

Perhaps because Miller was lately coopted by Robert Plant for his Band Of Joy, the right-hand man is missing off this collection, and maybe that's one reason why it doesn't quite reach the level of All I Intended To Be. It's a very good record, not a great record; carefully manufactured rather than lovingly crafted, with Harris turning in an efficient performance throughout without really breaking into a sweat, and Nashville producer Jay Joyce making sure she's more than adequately supported musically.

Opening track The Road is about being haunted by the past, so will have a resonance with her older followers. Er, like me. And possibly some of them will recognise the "3 chords and the truth" line, as I did, which may or may not originate, but certainly features on U2's version of All Along The Watchtower on Rattle & Hum. So that's the classical reference out of the way.

Moving swiftly on.

Harris does tender moments as well as anyone, and these are well exemplified here by Goodnight Sweet World, particularly effective in 3/4 time, and Lonely Girl. Wearing her heart on her sleeve, My Name Is Emmett Till is a tale of a black boy from Chicago bludgeoned, stabbed and shot to death by a white mob in Mississippi for having the effrontery to talk to a white woman. It's an affecting song which suppresses justifiable anger and stresses instead the tragedy of a young life brutally extinguished for no good reason.

Aside from Buddy (and, in the past, Gram, of course), the other dependable influence on the Emmylou opus has been the McGarrigle sisters, upon whom Harris has said she always calls if a song needed to be sadder. (There are two good examples on All I Intended To Be, but my favourite is All I Left Behind on Western Wall). So appropriately probably the saddest song in the collection is Darlin' Kate, about the death of Kate McGarrigle. A lovely song, and possibly the best on the album.

But the one that gets my feet tapping is New Orleans, a drum-driven stomp about the resilience of the Crescent City in the face of Hurricane Katrina, and it was finding myself singing this (and not feeling ashamed) that really made my mind up. Highly recommended.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Whatever happened to Emmylou, 29 April 2014
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This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
This is a contemplative sorrowful album. I followed her years ago during her early career whilst at University and have recently reacquired some of those early albums. This is very differentit is quiet reflective and regretful. I suppose we all get older, more cynical. Do I like it, probably. Just pass me the razor blade after its over. Is there no hope anymore.Seriously its very diffferent from the early albums but it still has something and its interesting to see the transition just hope she finds some life and joy again cynicism is ok but not a career. (except for Leonard Cohen)
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Sterling Errort, 22 July 2011
By 
Anthony R. Dixon (Malvern, Worcs Great Britain) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
Let's face it, Emmylou's last album, "All I Intended To Be" was always going to be a tough album to follow, wasn't it? Every song here, bar two, are penned by Emmylou herself. I know she's self-deprecating about her songwriting abilities, but she needn't be, but her confidence as a songwriter is coming late in life. Personally, I think she's one of the best in the country genre. All said, Emmylou has made another fine effort with this album, though it falls short on a few of the songs, there are 4 or 5 diamonds here.

The Road - A rocky number that takes a look back to the time she spent working with Gram, and an acknowledgement to the debt she feels she still owes him. Why, I don't know, he may have given her the initial impetus, but her talent easily matches his. Given the subject matter, the heartache so evident in Boulder To Birmingham is long gone.

My Name is Emmett Till - A look back at the notorious case of Emmett Till. Well-written and emotive lyrics, sung exquisitely, though the urgency for change has long gone since Dylan wrote his take on the matter. Racism is still there in American society, but the lynch mob is thankfully a thing of the past...even in Mississippi.

Lonely Girl - Another beautiful song which, though I may be wrong, seems to yearn for what Emmylou has sacrificed for her career. That's my interpretation, anyway. I'm here, Emmylou :0)

Darlin' Kate - The kind of song that Emmylou does best. A tribute to her friend and music collaborator, Kate McGarrigle, who died in 2010 following a long battle with cancer. Probably the most beautiful song on the album. If I had to pick the one stand-out song on the album, this would be it.

Ship on his Arm - My final choice from the album, again delivered in her inimitable style.

The rest of the songs are a mixed bag, but mostly okay. Emmylou's work tend to grow on me with repeated listening and I've only had a couple of weeks to listen to this album, mostly while driving, so I do expect one or two more to grow on me. Only song I really can't stand is Big Black Dog, but I know dogs are a subject close to Emmylou's heart, and she obviously feels she has something to say.

As always, the musicianship is up to the high standards we all expect of Emmylou. I would have liked to see more musicians involved though, which would add more variation to the music.

In all a good album, which I can heartily recommend.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Hard bargain, 6 July 2011
This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
I have never been a huge fan of Emmylou Harris's voice but bought this CD having recently seen her in concert.
It is very good and I am finding that I am listening to it a lot. Pretty well all the tracks are good and like a lot of her work it Hard Bargain is more than just mainstream 'country'. A very good CD, well worth buying.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars EmmyLou Harris - Hard Bargain, 24 May 2011
This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
I received the CD quickly. It is EmmyLou at her tuneful best with a variety of songs. Interesting, often very emotional, thought provoking, lyrics - gets better every time I listen to it. Backing is good with a variety of instruments. Initially, I thought some of the tracks were a bit heavy on drums but not now. It is good to have a CD where you can focus on the words, the music or the combined effect - depending on your mood.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Emmylou at her best (again), 6 Jun 2011
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This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
Love the new album, have just been to see Emmylou in Manchester and heard the stories behind the tracks, makes them all the more poignant.
Well worth buying.
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11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars the REAL Emmylou Harris, 26 April 2011
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This review is from: Hard Bargain (Audio CD)
One reviewer here suggests Emmylou Harris is "best known as an interpreter of other writers' songs". Sadly, that might be the case, particularly because nostalgia for that dark haired girl who once covered her ex-lover Gram Parsons' songs in front of what was basically Elvis's "Hot Band", still persist in the minds of the general record buying public.

But the Emmylou Harris story REALLY got interesting with the release of the autobiographical, self penned (with a collaborator), "Ballad of Sally Rose" (1985). And whilst she can hardly be described as a prolific songwriter, (she describes herself as a "finder of songs"), it is on those albums since that time in which she has taken on more of the writing chores, (in particular Red Dirt Girl, and Stumble Into Grace), that I feel Emmylou the Artist most shines.

For that reason "Hard bargain" has joined my Top 3 Emmylou Harris albums, alongside Red Dirt Girl and Wrecking Ball. Also, the production and arrangements really add to the album, giving it a "fresher" feel and a promise of new directions, a little more than was the case with the previous (though good) "All I Intended to Be".
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