Album: Emmylou Harris, Hard Bargain (Nonesuch)

Sighs, incantations, epically resonant minor chords hacked on reverb-drenched guitars – it has become Harris's default sound, a sort of rotisseried art-Americana.

As you might expect, then, Hard Bargain does not have a lively feel. It is stately, rather imperious music, conveying emotion through the deployment of technical effects rather than through the revelation of a voice. Not unlike the English folk singer June Tabor, Harris now treats her voice as a theatrical device, which is all well and good if you have the material to make drama with. But I'm not sure she has.

The majority of songs here are written by Harris, and though most are freighted with sufficient wisdom to ballast the floaty Southern Gothic vibe, not one catches in the mind except as a demonstration of a self-conscious technical style.