is one of the most respected singers in contemporary American folk music and Americana
, and with good reason. Her vocals are smooth as honey and hugely emotive, and her new album Hard Bargain
is packed tight with more of the same delicious sad songs we've come to expect from this music legend.
Plenty of Sad Songs
Sure, Hard Bargain
doesn't deliver anything remarkably new and different from Emmylou Harris. Long-time fans know well of Emmy's love affair with sad songs. If you've seen her live, you've likely heard her comment from the stage about how sad songs "make you feel so good." Maybe it's because a good sad song can remind you life is not so bad. If your day is going well, hearing a remarkably sad tune like "My Name Is Emmett Till" (purchase/download
) could certainly offer a little perspective. Or perhaps it's because experiencing sadness and loneliness is exactly the time we need things like music to remind us we're not alone in this world.
Even the love songs on Hard Bargain arrive from the quietest, saddest sadness one can imagine. In "Goodnight Old World" (purchase/download), Emmy sings: "Sometimes I feel like I'm drowning in tear drops / my eyes are so tired of the trouble I've seen."
"Big Black Dog" (purchase/download) - a tune inspired no doubt by Emmy's animal shelter philanthropy - is maybe the only almost-happy song, only because the thought of a big black dog who's got "a little too much grey around the muzzle" is enough to make almost anyone smile.
Tributes and Tribulations
There are tributes here to Harris' most famous friendships - album-opener "The Road" (purchase/download
) comments on Gram Parsons, while "Darlin' Kate" (purchase/download
) is a moving tribute to the late, incredibly talented Kate McGarrigle ("You were the sweetest note in the chord of life"). Even the city of New Orleans gets tribute here, with its intrinsic musicality and determined resilience.
Throughout the disc, the instrumentation is beautiful and intuitive. Long, weeping fiddle notes and chunky, contemplative piano chords are balanced only by the occasional tentative brightness of a banjo or mandolin. The percussion is distant, if there at all, but always clever. Clearly Emmylou knows how and where to find players who will bring out her finest gift - that of hugely emotional vocals.
The bottom line: this album contains no surprises, just beautiful music presented in the most emotional, honest possible way. Emmylou Harris is part of the folk/Americana elite for a reason, and Hard Bargain is just more proof of why.