Hard Bargain - Emmylou Harris
Metascore
69

Generally favorable reviews - based on 19 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 10 out of 19
  2. Negative: 0 out of 19
  1. May 18, 2011
    75
    Hard Bargain is a gorgeous album.
  2. Jun 1, 2011
    70
    Harris, who was inducted into the Country Hall of Fame in 2008, wears her best hat here: that of the melancholy raconteur.
  3. May 19, 2011
    78
    Nashville's harmony constant wrote/co-wrote all but two of the 13 tracks on her latest career high, though the Ron Sexsmith cover titling Hard Bargain demands its very own songbook.
  4. 50
    Emmylou Harris has rightly earned a reputation as an interpreter of songs and as a songwriter. Most on this offering are her own and not all hit the spot.
  5. Apr 29, 2011
    80
    It's a fitting way to round out an album that, remarkably, builds new momentum on an already extraordinary 40-year musical career.
  6. Apr 28, 2011
    60
    It's an album marinated in sadness, so much so that in places it veers into the maudlin, but Harris's poetic steel usually saves the day.
  7. Apr 27, 2011
    80
    At the age of 64, Emmylou Harris has made an album as fresh and distinctive as any in her catalog, and Hard Bargain is a reminder that her evolution into a songwriter is one of the most pleasant surprises in a career that's produced rewarding music for nearly 40 years.
  8. Apr 26, 2011
    80
    A solidly sung, played and written collection of songs, it is a very fine release that will almost certainly find a welcome reception from her longtime fans.
  9. It is stately, rather imperious music, conveying emotion through the deployment of technical effects rather than through the revelation of a voice.
  10. 60
    Harris' vocal approach to her folk-based songs, ballads or mid-tempo, is infused with the presence of a time-traveler, visiting modern America from a pre-pop-culture place where music is in the air rather than the airwaves.
  11. Apr 25, 2011
    70
    Though her voice has begun to show some signs of wear, Harris remains one of popular music's most compelling, evocative vocal stylists, and that makes Hard Bargain an easy sell.
  12. Apr 25, 2011
    90
    The 13-track set, produced by Jay Joyce, assures us that she's more than OK, with a still-luminous voice that can make the phone book sound like Puccini.
  13. Apr 25, 2011
    70
    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.
  14. Apr 22, 2011
    60
    The lingering sense, though, is one of repetition. Now the novelty of her songwriting has worn off, she needs to find a whole new language again.
  15. 60
    While the arrangements, built around producer Jay Joyce's shimmering guitars and Giles Reaves' keyboards and percussion, offer atmospheric settings for Emmylou's harmonies, the glistening, featherlight textures leave the album drifting in the doldrums.
  16. 83
    Some of the story-songs are drippy, but that voice remains dry.
  17. Jun 7, 2011
    60
    If Hard Bargain doesn't quite hit a career high, it runs close on tearful eulogies to Gram Parsons and Kate McGarrigle, and the stunning My Name Is Emmett Till, a Cash/Dylan-esque civil rights songs. [Jun 2011, p.116]
  18. May 18, 2011
    40
    Longtime fans might be appeased. Others may find themselves a trifle bored. [May 2011, p.104]
  19. Apr 21, 2011
    60
    Beneath its appealing veneer this remains a work wracked with personal anguish and doubt, and any positive engagement with life is welcome in it--even if, from necessity, it has to come from someone else. [May 2011, p.84]
User Score
7.8

Generally favorable reviews- based on 5 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 1 out of 1
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 1
  3. Negative: 0 out of 1
  1. Jul 10, 2011
    6
    It's hard to be critical of an artist who maintains a steadfast commitment to her roots, a continued integrity in her field of music, and aIt's hard to be critical of an artist who maintains a steadfast commitment to her roots, a continued integrity in her field of music, and a legacy of extraordinary musical highs, but Emmylou's new album sounds terribly weary. So often her pitch perfect tones have relaxed and soothed, whilst her writing has held an ethereal depth way beyond the majority of her peers. Indeed, "Hard Bargain" opens with a nostalgic trip back to the place where she discovered and honed her skills by celebrating her former cohort and hero, Gram Parsons on the atmospheric ballad "The Road". The melancholy spreads to another recently departed friend, Kate McGarrigle on "Darlin' Kate", but the true highlight of Harris's dark reflections comes on the excellent first person delivered "My Name Is Emmett Till". The song captures the story of a 14 year old black boy who was tortured and later murdered by a posse in Mississippi and later became a catalyst for the civil right movement. For all the passion Harris continues to deploy in her songs, she occasionally drifts into sloppy whimsy and "Big Black Dog" is an example of a poor song slipping through the quality control department and sullying the record. "You're not brown, you're not yellow, Bella, Bella, my big black dog" are the sort of lyrics you'd expect a ten year old to be disappointed with, so why no one picked up that the song simply isn't strong enough to be included is a complete mystery. Another reservation is Jay Joyce's lifeless production effort, which, although polished, lacks an organic earthiness to complement Emmylou's introspective vocals. This effect would have saved "Six White Cadillac's" from sounding like an obligation to fill time. There's probably enough here to keep the fans content, but "Hard Bargain" sees Emmylou Harris settling for some mixed creations, flat productions and tired presentations. http://hackskeptic.com Full Review »