Emmylou Harris has lived long, she has suffered both loss and love. Her sad songs have made her legendary. Yet, with the release of "Hard Bargain," her songs are now gilded in the rich patina of many years passed. She mourns the loss of contemporaries Gram Parsons and Kate McGarrigle, It is almost unbearable to listen to the elegiac "My Name is Emmett Till," except that to eulogize a murdered 14-year-old boy more than half a century after his death is also to admit his immortality. In "New Orleans," the grim hardships inflicted by hurricane Katrina are balanced by a note of redemption in the lyrics: "So baby let the life roll on/The blues were made to make us strong."
Harris admits to a penchant for sad songs; they make real pain bearable, she says.Yet, "Hard Bargain" shows pain and joy in balance; life's neither all one nor all the other. This balance is achieved by "Big Black Dog," a twangy ditty that mimics its namesake, an abandoned dog that from mean streets found a slice of paradise, presumably in Harris' home and heart. In the song that sums up the perspective of her long life, "Nobody," Harris sings, "But there are no regrets, she'll place no blame."
--Bob S., Rock Road Branch