Hard Bargain CD
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Digital Booklet: Hard Bargain
Digital Booklet: Hard Bargain
(2011/NONESUCH) 13 tracks, produced by Jay Joyce - digipac
Home Sweet Home
My Name Is Emmett Till
Goodnight Old World
Big Black Dog
Six White Cadillacs
The Ship On His Arm
After a 40-year career which has generated over 25 albums, countless collaborations, twelve Grammy wins, membership of the Country Music Hall of Fame and the undying gratitude of several figures in country music, it’s only fair that Emmylou Harris has earned the right to a bit of self-indulgence.
Alas, though, often self-indulgence doesn’t work. Harris’ genius has always been to take a song and own it, to make it her own. Whether it were an old Louvin Brothers number everyone had forgotten, or a completely new take on a Patsy Cline classic, her voice would transform it.
The trouble with Harris is that she’s never been much of a songwriter. Actually, that’s not correct, quite: there was one instance where her self-penned work was wonderful. Boulder to Birmingham, written shortly after the death of her collaborator, duettist and friend, Gram Parsons, was a highlight of 1975’s Pieces of the Sky album. This set begins with another tribute to Gram, The Road; but where the former was full of imagery and allusion, this one makes its point in the most prosaic of ways. All but two of these songs are self-written, but the only one that resonates is Darlin’ Kate, written for her close friend, the late Kate McGarrigle. Here it feels as though she forgets what she is trying to do and just writes from her heart.
The sound of the album is, of course, beautiful. They don’t get that wrong in Nashville. Emmylou plays guitar and her two collaborators, Jay Joyce and Giles Reave, perform admirably and tastefully on an array of guitars and percussion. Her voice, though not as light as it was, still has that irresistible frail breathlessness – and her diction is as indistinct as ever, a characteristic that always gave the impression that she was slightly distracted.
Performances and production are is excellent throughout, then. It’s the songs that are the problem. Harris still has so much to offer; she’s been through the Nashville corporate mill, and steeped herself on the alt-country side of things. She knows the business as well as anyone. She just needs to dig up some big old songs again, as those here aren’t consistently up to the standard fans have rightly come to expect.
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
...cos I think Hard Bargain is way better than Stumble into Grace (such a silly title) and All I Intended To Be, both of which I find unremittingly dreary and samey. Read morePublished 2 months ago by The Minkx
This is a great self penned album from Emmylou Harris, every song is fantastic and the dvd is just great with Emmylou telling the story behind each song.Published 2 months ago by rex
One of her older work which starts with some fairly good tracks but fades away from the middle. Not one of her best.Published 9 months ago by colin hebden
What a superb album, every time I play it I hear something I missed first time round. I will never tire of listening to this collection of songsPublished 11 months ago by Fpk