By James Calemine
Hard Bargain counts as Emmylou Harris’ 21st studio album. Produced by collaborator Jay Joyce these songs, recorded in Nashville, include formidable original material. The Alabama born Emmylou was raised in Virginia, and soon met a fellow by the name of Gram Parsons in the early 70s. Emmylou, a 12 time Grammy winner, wears a golden crown in the music world. She’s played music with Gram Parsons, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, The Band, Neil Young, Daniel Lanois and many others.
Hard Bargain opens with “The Road” a song that pays homage to her cosmic brother Gram Parsons that Emmylou claims is “the reason I’m here or that anyone is interested in what I say or do.” “Home Sweet Home” is a wise song that invokes mortality of every generation. Emmylou wrote or co-wrote all of these compositions except two. An elegy, “My Name Is Emmett Till” tells the story of an African-American teenager killed in 1955.
A lullaby, “Goodnight Old World” Emmylou penned for her grandchild. “New Orleans” stands as a signature tune in tribute to the Crescent City. A well-known animal lover, Emmylou wrote “Big Black Dog” about a stray she found. “Lonely Girl” emerges as a centerpiece gem on Hard Bargain that evokes a sad picture. A timeless tune, indeed…
The title track–written by Ron Sexsmith–continues a mournful mood in the track sequence. “Six White Cadillacs” shines as a rockabilly rocker that would make Ronnie Hawkins proud. The banjo-laced “Darlin’ Kate” pays homage to the late folk musician Kate McGarrigle. “The Ship On His Arm” Emmylou wrote about her parents meeting, getting married and starting a family.
Bonus tracks “Nobody” and “Cross Yourself” retain the album’s streamlined emotive material and sonic quality. Hard Bargain earns Emmylou Harris another reason for us all to bow our heads with the utmost respect.