Hard Bargain

  • Record Label: Nonesuch
  • Release Date: Apr 26, 2011

Generally favorable reviews - based on 19 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 10 out of 19
  2. Negative: 0 out of 19
Buy On
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Mojo
    May 18, 2011
    Longtime fans might be appeased. Others may find themselves a trifle bored. [May 2011, p.104]
  4. Apr 22, 2011
    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.
  5. Q Magazine
    Jun 7, 2011
    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]
  6. 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.
  7. It is stately, rather imperious music, conveying emotion through the deployment of technical effects rather than through the revelation of a voice.
  8. Apr 28, 2011
    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.
  9. Uncut
    Apr 21, 2011
    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

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
    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 »