Though best known as an interpreter of other writers' songs, Emmylou Harris has penned all but two of Hard Bargain's 13 tracks, which is not entirely to its advantage.
The best – the reunion song "Ship On His Arm", the yearning "Lonely Girl", and especially her tribute to former musical mentor Gram Parsons, "The Road" – are excellent, but her touch is less sure on things like "Big Black Dog" and her tribute to Kate McGarrigle. And 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. When things move out of that comfort zone, the results can be catastrophic, as on the stomp-rocker "New Orleans".
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