Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain (Nonesuch) *****

Published in CD reviews by

EMMYLOU Harris first acknowledged her debt to her mentor and best friend Gram Parsons with the achingly beautiful tribute From Boulder To Birmingham, on her debut record, Pieces Of The Sky.

Now, 36 years later, she returns to the emotional subject of Gram with The Road, the stunning first track of this superb album. As Emmylou’s angelic voice recalls their times together, we are reminded that she loved him then – and she loves him now.

The Road sets the standard for what is arguably her best album since 1977’s Luxury Liner. She has written all but two of the tracks herself and three of these, My Name Is Emmett Till, The Ship On His Arm and Dear Kate are among her finest compositions. The tribute to Emmett Till, the 14-year-old black boy killed by racist bigots in Mississippi in 1955, is heartrending in its simplicity, while the shimmering The Ship On His Arm is a reflection on the emotional cost of war, filtered through Emmylou’s relationship with her father. Darlin’ Kate is a tear-strewn goodbye to Kate McGarrigle, another dear musician friend whose death has left a void in Emmylou’s life.

But she is nothing if not a survivor, as the title track Hard Bargain by cult Canadian songwriter Ron Sexsmith, testifies. “I’m a bit run down, but I’m OK,” she sings in this classic cover version, which examines of the restorative powers of love and friendship, even in the darkest times. With Jay Joyce’s sensitive production and Giles Reaves’ consummate musicianship providing the perfect platform for Emmylou’s wise words and heavenly voice, this is an album to treasure.

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