Over the past 41 years, Emmylou Harris has eked for herself a permanent spot in the pantheon of American country artists. In 1969, she released Gliding Bird, a largely overlooked record, before dropping her major label debut a few years later, Pieces Of The Sky, quickly followed by Elite Hotel, two records which began for her the acclaimed journey that’s become her life and work. Today, Harris is at the top of her game and is regarded as one of the finest ‘real’ country artists of her time.
This here then is the latest example of such talent, Hard Bargain, laid down over four weeks in the middle of last year, seeing the light of day this month, a simple record featuring only Harris on vocals, producer/guitarist Jay Joyce and drummer/pianist, Giles Reaves. To my mind though, this is an interesting record in that it could be placed either in the ‘Classic Emmylou’ pile, or the ‘Over-produced Country Music’ pile.
The former because the songwriting is sublime, Harris’ voice as ethereal as usual, getting better with age, and over the top of some fine but sparse instrumentation, does wonders for the soul. The latter though, the over-production, really seems to wrap her voice in too much ambience making for what seems far too polished and precise, which I feel isn’t the best way to portray how Harris delivers her vocals.
Aside from that though, if you hone in on the intricate arrangements and just listen to what Harris is singing and how she sings it, then this is a fine record, my only gripe being Joyce is better suited, in this instance, to his guitar work, as opposed to his production.
Samuel J. Fell
(published in Inpress Magazine (Melb), 1st June '11)