For an album about life's journey, Emmylou Harris wrote most of the songs herself. Long celebrated as an interpreter with impeccable taste in material, Harris composed 11 of the 13 tunes on "Hard Bargain," and they're up to her high standards.
There's a theme throughout: Time is flying by, the sun is going down, and Harris has spent her life "working on the blues." Nearly 40 years after the death of country-rock pioneer Gram Parsons, she offers a fresh assessment of their close relationship on "The Road." Harris sings with equal eloquence on "Darlin' Kate" about another friend and singer who died last year, Kate McGarrigle.
Harris finds dignity in late-life solitude on "Nobody" and the gorgeous "Lonely Girl." On "My Name Is Emmett Till," she contemplates the years stolen from the young man whose killing became a symbol of the civil rights movement.
Harris still performs in cowboy boots, but she branched out beyond country music some time ago, and there's little twang here. The album was recorded with producer-guitarist Jay Joyce and multi-instrumentalist Giles Reaves, and the trio creates the sort of gauzy, soft-focus sound Harris first explored on "Wrecking Ball" in 1995. Her silvery soprano is in fine form, and as always, her songs benefit from contributions by the world's greatest harmony singer: Harris.
CHECK THIS TRACK OUT: "My Name Is Emmett Till" revisits the horror of an infamous 1955 murder with moving grace, the wordless chorus echoing spirituals sung at civil rights rallies.