Hard Bargain by Emmylou Harris

I’m a bit run down but I’m OK, sings Emmylou on Hard Bargain’s title track, summing up the album’s blend of weariness and hope. The streak of melancholy that colored her recent albums is lightened this time around by a welcome variety of tempos and emotional shadings.

The sense of sonic adventure imparted by producer Jay Joyce recalls that of 1995’s Wrecking Ball, and his impressionistic, studio-treated moods—while occasionally forgoing naturalness—fit the bill for Emmylou’s introspective musings: The bittersweet “Goodnight Old World” evokes a lucid dream state, floating atop guitars damp with reverb, and Emmy taps into deep longing on “Home Sweet Home,” a song about homelessness that carries spiritual overtones also heard elsewhere on the disc.

Loss and loneliness characterize the disc, yet Emmy doesn’t sink the ship; the whimsical “Big Black Dog” is a tuneful tail-wagger that thoughtfully suggests a link between isolation of both the human and canine varieties. With tracks such as these, Hard Bargain reminds that old dogs can learn—and excel at—new tricks.

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