Tuesday 23 January 2018

Music: Hard Bargain by Emmylou Harris * * *

(Nonesuch)

But Harris's self-penned album is a mixed bag
But Harris's self-penned album is a mixed bag
John Meagher

John Meagher

With a sterling 40-year career behind her, there's no doubting the lofty standing of Emmylou Harris. She is, quite simply, one of the finest singers to have come of age in the 70s; an icon of Nashville.

Yet her brilliance has rested on her ability to reinterpret the music of others. She has rarely written her own material, although in latter years she has tried gamely. The bulk of this album is self-written and it's a mixed affair.

An air of melancholy pervades as Harris looks back to the past, and especially to her friends who have died. It kicks off with The Road -- a tribute to her friend and collaborator, the late Gram Parsons. It's a touching tribute, although highly prosaic when compared with Boulder to Birmingham (a song for Gram from her masterful 1975 album, Pieces of the Sky).

Far more effective is Darlin' Kate, a moving, affectionate portrait of the peerless Kate McGarrigle, who died two years ago. It's a song from the heart, naked and raw and devastatingly powerful.

Unsurprisingly, Harris can call upon the cream of Nashville talent -- most pertinently Jay Joyce and Giles Reave -- and the musicianship can't be faulted. But even they can't rescue Big Black Dog -- a song about her appreciation for canine friends. It's mawkish and slight, but then with the exception of Lambchop's My Blue Wave, can you think of a dog-inspired track that's any good?

Burn it: Darlin' Kate

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