My Kind of Country

Country music from a fan's point of view since 2008

Tag Archives: Will Jennings

Album Review: Crystal Gayle – ‘These Days’

41xt6655asl-_ac_us300_ql65_Released in August 1980, These Days was Crystal Gayle’s  second of three albums recorded for Columbia. Although very successful on Billboard’s Country Albums chart reaching #6 and being certified gold s also definitely NOT a country album. It is also my least favorite of her albums, although there are many redeeming moments. The album seems to run between 80’s lounge and classic pop standards.

The album opens up with “Too Many Lovers”, a #1 record written by Mark True, Ted Lindsay, Sam Hogin. This song is moderately up-tempo with a rock guitar break.  This is followed by “If You Ever Change Your Mind”, a nice ballad written by Parker McGee and Bob Gundry. The instrumentation is basically jazz piano with orchestration. This too reached #1.

“Ain’t No Love In the Heart of The City” is typical cocktail lounge pop. Crystal sings it well but the song itself leaves me cold. Written by Michael Price and Daniel Walsh, the song leans toward modern R&B, as does the next song “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, which I find disappointing as Will Jennings and Joe Sample have decent track records as country songsmiths. With a different arrangement, I might like “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)”, but the background vocals on the “Same Old Story (Same Old Song)” probably belong on a Patti Labelle record rather than anything recorded by Crystal Gayle, and the Kenny G style sax leaves me completely cold.

Allen Reynolds and Bob McDill usually crafted good songs, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” is no exception. A slow ballad with flute and string accompaniment, I could see this song being released as a single to Adult Contemporary radio. Don Williams recorded the song as an album track but I think Crystal’s version is better, even exquisite.

What a time to turn your back on someone
What a day to be without a friend
What a shame when no-one seems to bother
Who will offer shelter to candles in the wind

And it follows we are only helpless children
Ever changing like sunlight through the trees
It’s a long road we must cling to one another
Help yourselves to each other, that’s the way it’s meant to be

The great Delbert McClinton wrote “Take It Easy’ which proved to be a minor hit for Crystal Gayle, reaching #17. Crystal handles it well but her version pales to the McClinton original, and I suspect grittier female country vocalists such as Gus Hardin, Lacy J Dalton, Gail Davies, Wilma Lee Cooper or Jean Shepard  could have done the song better (not that Wilma Lee or Jean could ever have been persuaded to record this song) .

“I Just Can’t Leave Your Love Alone” is another song by Sample and Jennings, this time a mid-tempo blues number , with a traditional jazz accompaniment including clarinet.

“You’ve Almost Got Me Believin'”, by Barbara Wyrick,  sounds like cocktail lounge pop. I really didn’t like this song at all, particularly after the Kenny G-styled sax kicks in. Crystal’s vocal is nice but the song is unworthy.

“Lover Man” is a pop standard classic by Maxwell Anderson and Kurt Weill. American listeners may recall Weill as the composer of “Mack The Knife”, but he penned many fine songs, including this one. While the song is often associated with Ella Fitzgerald, Crystal acquits herself well . The arrangement can be best describe as a very bluesy piece of piano jazz.

I don’t know why but I’m feeling so sad
I long to try something I never had
Never had no kissing
Oh, what I’ve been missing
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The night is cold and I’m so alone
I’d give my soul just to call you my own
Got a moon above me
But no one to love me
Lover man, oh, where can you be

The album reaches back to 1934 for its closing number “What a Little Moonlight Can Do”, from the pen of Tin Pan Alley writer Harry M. Woods. Harry wrote a number of pop standard classics including “I’m Looking Over a Four Leaf Clover”,  “When the Moon Comes Over the Mountain”, “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye”, and “Try a Little Tenderness”.  The song is performed as an up-tempo traditional jazz number with honky-tonk piano similar to what Joanne Castle, Big Tiny Little or Joe “Fingers” Carr might have played, and a very nice clarinet solo.

Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do
Ooh, ooh, ooh
What a little moonlight can do to you

You’re in love
Your heart’s fluttering
All day long
You only stutter
Cause your poor tone
Just will not utter the words
I love you

For me this is a mixed bag. I do like pop standards and traditional jazz balladry, but I don’t care for cocktail lounge jazz. There are some very nice song on this album and some songs about which I am utterly indifferent. There is nothing remotely country on this album. I think the first two and last two songs on this album, and “Help Yourselves to Each Other” are the best songs  on the album.

Grade: B

Album Review – Rodney Crowell – ‘Tarpaper Sky’

TarpaperSkyAfter a decade spent making legacy albums, churning out two long anticipated collaborative projects, and writing his memoir, Rodney Crowell has reunited with his late 80s / early 90s brethren (Stuart Smith, Michael Rhodes, John Hobbs, and Eddy Bayers) for his new album. Tarpaper Sky is stunning as a result, consisting solely of original compositions that return Crowell to the straightforward sound that gained him fame in his heyday.

At 63 Crowell’s vocal tone has weathered with age, creating richness that ads reverence to everything he sings. He uses it to his full advantage, along with his genius as a wordsmith, to reflect on life through universal truths.  

“The simple life tastes sweeter now, we have no need to roam,” he sings on “Long Journey Home,” the strum-centric album opener. He’s lamenting on the quieter life he seeks now after a life of living out the self-proclaimed freedom he sought in his younger days. The excellent track is as much an inward expression as a mission statement, drawing the listener into Crowell’s mindset for the whole of the record.

He echoes the virtues of that simpler life on “Grandma Loved That Old Man,” his beautiful commentary on true love. Through vivid imagery, and his brilliance as a storyteller, Crowell brings the couple to life – warts and all – linking their story with the mutual affection that bonds their lives together. The melody, lush with acoustic guitar and organ, has a fabulous bootleg quality to it that takes the song to new heights, making you feel like you’ve stumbled upon something special.

Its clear Crowell is in the midst of a creative resurgence, which, for a man who’s been steadily crafting genre-defining work for more than forty years, is remarkable. “Oh, What A Beautiful World,” a Dylan-era inspired folk tune laced with harmonica, is a biting take on the circle of life that could only come from someone with a lot of life in their years. Crowell certainly fits the bill as he sings, “It’s the truth and the lie, is to live and to die.

Nowhere is Crowell’s wide-eyed soul on fuller display than his magical “The Flyboy and the Kid,” a brilliant hymn about one man’s adoration for his best friend. Crowell lays out his wishes (days filled with honest work, easy answers to all life’s questions, etc) with gorgeous sincerity resonated by the mid-tempo mandolin and upright bass filled melody, which ranks as my favorite on Tarpaper Sky.

The standout number on Tarpaper Sky, and the instance where the album title was born, is “God I’m Missing You,” the Mary Karr Kin co-write done on that project by Lucinda Williams. The wordy ballad, stylistically reminiscent of “Open Season On My Heart,” is a tender masterpiece about the impressions people leave on us in this life, and how they never really go away in death. The mournful ache Crowell brings to the number is pitch-perfect, exceeded only by the lyric, which never falters in fully developing the emotional undertones. “There’s a sanded down moon, in a tarpaper sky” may be my favorite line on the whole album.

Crowell may be in a contemplative mood for much of Tarpaper Sky, but he detours into other territories, too. Lead single “Frankie Please” is a rapid-fire pistol-whip about a man’s blink-and-you-missed-it courtship and subsequent marriage “that happened so fast, they said it wouldn’t last” to a woman named Frankie. Crowell, along with Smith and Dan Knobler, give the tune a 50s shuffle feel complete with Memphis inspired electric guitars. It’s a great song with Crowell deserving credit for keeping up with the vibrant energy of the track.

“Fever On The Bayou,” a co-write with frequent collaborator Will Jennings, has been twenty-years in the making, finally finished when the last verse was born out of an airport run in with songwriter Byron House. The tune is excellent, painting a picture of the Bayou life and the women who live there.

Tarpaper Sky only missteps occasionally, either by general pedestrian-ess or melodies that just weren’t to my taste. “Famous Last Words of a Fool In Love” and “I Wouldn’t Be Me Without You” are fine songs, but the ballads seem too generic for an album with this much thematic heaviness. “Somebody’s Shadow” (a co-write with Quinten Collier) and the self-penned “Jesus Talked To Mama” are too heavy with electric guitars for me to fully enjoy them. But they’re not bad songs at all, just weak spots on an otherwise masterful album.

When I read that Crowell began recording Tarpaper Sky in 2010, I was taken aback since this album feels born as much from the recent resurgence in Americana as his creative rebirth in the wake of Kin and Old Yellow Moon. Crowell’s insistence on going back to basics works in his favor, too, although Tarpaper Sky is a fully modern album and not a retread of Diamonds & Dirt. He’s still a songwriter at the peak of his abilities and after more than forty years, that’s wonderful to see. At it’s best Tarpaper Sky is brilliant in its songcraft and one of the strongest songwriting projects to emerge in quite a long time.

Grade: A-

Album Review – Clint Black – ‘Spend My Time’

220px-Clint_Black,_Spend_My_TimeThe early 2000s brought a sea of change in Clint Black’s career. After the massive success of “When I Said I Do,” Black took three years away from the business to raise his daughter, who was born in 2001. His contract with RCA Nashville also expired during this time and left Black the opportunity to form his own label, Equity (the label that put Little Big Town on the map with The Road To Here in 2005.)

His first full-length project for the label, Spend My Time was released in 2004 and marked Black’s first album of all-new material since Nothin’ But The Tailights in 1997. He again produced the project solo, keeping with the tradition he set with his all acoustic set in 1999.

While Spend My Time was a comeback of sorts for Black, the changing tide of country music left very little room for the album on radio playlists and as a result, the singles faired poorly. He just missed the top 15 with the title track, a lovely ballad he penned solo. It’s a fantastic song about the passage of time, and while it could’ve been very cliché, he keeps it sincere with his honest vocal and neo-traditional arrangement.

He wrote #51 peaking second single “The Boogie Man” with noted songwriter Will Jennings. Black wrote the track for his young daughter and it exudes a pleasing playfulness that he nicely brings out in his vocal. The production, however, is a bit uncharacteristically thick and rockish for Black, but he keeps it in check with ear catching bluesy piano throughout. Final single “My Imagination,” a nice string heavy ballad, peaked at #42.

Like the majority of Black’s musical catalog Spend My Time is a solid effort. It’s clear he’s played with his winning formula a bit, taking out overly traditional arrangements and adding in a dash of poppier sounds that give the project a contemporary flare that keeps it modern without sounding dated. He also manages to sound completely himself, and avoids the pitfalls of changing too much too quickly.

The ballads are the record’s best tracks, toned down to offer nice clarity. “Whatever Happened” has a nice acoustic guitar laden melody while “Just Like You and Me” raises above Black’s somewhat shouty vocal thanks to ample steel. Those same elements also elevate “Someone Else’s Tears” and “A Lover’s Clown” sounds like something Black would’ve put on any of his mid-90s work.

I do have an issue with him vocally, however. He tends to over sing almost all the songs here, like his vocal was turned up to eleven while the backing music doesn’t match that intensity. He would’ve succeeded even further if he had just a bit more subtlety in his voice. That being said, his vocal gymnastics are well matched on the ample uptempo material, the places on Spend My Time where the album ranges in quality.

Black’s upbeat ‘sweet spot’ if you will are on tracks like “State of Mind” and “The Shoes Your Wearnin,’” where the drums and guitars don’t interfere with the song, but allow Black to roll along with a nice energy. Unfortunately, none of those such moments are found here. The reggae influenced “We All Fall Down,” 80s rock inspired “She’s Leavin,’” and choir heavy “A Mind To” are nothing more than noise, too loud in every respect to be enjoyed for the interesting lyric they probably are.

“Haywire” works beautifully because it leaves space for Black to deliver bluesy riffs reminiscent of “Put Yourself In My Shoes” that are firmly in his wheelhouse. It may not be to my personal taste, but it’s one of the standout tracks. “Everything I Need” is also very good, if a bit too loud. I’m not a huge fan of guitar rockers (like Brad and Keith are known for) but he makes this one work.

Overall, Spend My Time isn’t a bad album at all and marked a worthy return for Black. He still in fine voice and keeps the material up to his usual standard even if none of these songs (apart from the title track) are memorable in any significant way. He just needs to tone everything down a few notches and find a bit more tenderness, and he may’ve come closer to hitting a home run. As it stands Spend My Time is good effort that could’ve been a lot stronger. But I appreciate that he’s clearly putting in effort.

Grade: B

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Jewel of the South’

1994’s Let The Picture Paint Itself reunited Rodney Crowell with co-producer Tony Brown, and though they were unable to recapture the commercial spark of Diamonds & Dirt, they collaborated again for the following year’s Jewel of the South. It was the last project they worked on together.

Though not as traditional nor as satisfying as Diamonds & Dirt, Jewel of the South is nonetheless a solid album. Unfortunately, Rodney’s commercial momentum had been lost by this point, and the album did not receive the recognition it deserved. The album’s lone single was “Please Remember Me”, which Crowell wrote with Will Jennings. It stalled at #69. Aaron Neville and Linda Ronstadt later covered the song, as did Tim McGraw, who took it all the way to #1 on the country charts and #10 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1999. For the record, I prefer Crowell’s version to McGraw’s.

Crowell had a hand in writing eight of the album’s eleven tracks, including the brief Tex-Mex flavored closing track “Que Is Amor” which lists Will Jennings and the late Roy Orbison as co-writers. Clocking it at just over a minute and a half, the song doesn’t doesn’t say much or add much to the album. It is, however, very much the exception because the rest of the album’s tracks are solid. The rock-tinged “Love to Burn” reunites Crowell and Jennings with Hank DeVito; the result is reminiscent of the music Rodney made back in his Warner Bros. days. One of the album’s best tracks is the introspective “Thinkin’ About Leavin'”, which is about musician who apparently gave up life on the road for a marriage and family and is now experiencing some regret. The lyrics seem to serve as a metaphor for Rodney’s declining commercial appeal:

Sometimes I miss the bright lights sometimes I miss the crowd
Sometimes I miss the women sometimes the music loud
Sometimes I miss that world out there so cold hard and unkind
I’ve been thinking about leaving long enough to change my mind

Sometimes I miss the bright lights sometimes I miss the noise
Sometimes I miss the women sometimes the good old boys
Sometimes I miss that world out there so cold hard and unkind
And I’ve been thinking about leaving long enough to change my mind

In addition to Rodney’s original material, there are some well-chosen covers. The Harlan Howard-Buck Owens tune “Storm of Love” is perhaps an attempt to recreate the magic of “Above and Beyond”. It’s not quite as good as “Above and Beyond” but it’s still the album’s best track. There is also a very good rendition of Roy Orbison’s “Candy Man”, complete with a bluesy harmonica solo.

Despite a solid set of songs and Rodney’s connections to the label brass, Jewel of the South was a commercial failure and was Rodney’s last for MCA. It’s still worth listening to and fortunately inexpensive copies are easy to find, including a 2-for-1 import release that also contains Let The Picture Paint Itself.

Grade: B

Album Review – Rodney Crowell – ‘Life Is Messy’

Life Is Messy arrived in May 1992 and served as a correction of course following the disappointing commercial success of Keys of the Highway. It marked his first recording for Columbia without Tony Brown at the helm and came as his marriage to Rosanne Cash was ending in divorce.

With his personal life in turmoil, Crowell crafted a brooding album of heartbreak ballads that found him coming to terms with the end of his marriage all the while looking into the better future that lie ahead. While not his most energetic work, the album rose to #30 and spun two top-ten singles.

One of the project’s rare up-tempo numbers, the solo penned “Lovin’ All Night” proceeded the project and peaked at #10. Led by distinctive guitar and drum work, it marked one of Crowell’s more memorable singles of the 1990s (Patty Loveless covered it on 2003’s On Your Way Home). The airy and somewhat pop flavored “What Kind of Love,” co-written by Crowell with Will Jennings and Roy Orbison (who wrote the melody shortly before he died), peaked art #11 that summer. A third single, “Let’s Make Trouble” failed to chart.

The rest of Life is Messy feels more like a personal art project than a commercial country album and showed the quickly growing divide between Crowell and mainstream country radio. But as a singer/songwriter, Crowell proves worth by creating some of his deepest and most heartfelt compositions to date.

The best of the most personal songs, “Alone but not Alone” opens with a beautiful reflection on a life peppered with confusion:

I’m stretched out like a canvas ‘neath a blue and endless sky

Staring up through cattle bones as cotton balls roll by

I swear I see a rose up there so beautiful and white

If I so much as blink an eye I could lose her in this light

Out here in this deserted land the future looks so vast

Like every little grain of sand and every blade of grass

Other memorable heartbreak tunes include the beat driven “I Hardly Know Myself,” which Crowell co-wrote with Cash, the beautifully meditative  (and my personal favorite) “Life Is Messy,” which builds with his stunning vocal, and the Orbison-like “Maybe Next Time.” Even the rockers – “It’s Not for Me To Judge,” “It Doesn’t Get Better Than This” (which Crowell co-write with John Leventhal, the man Cash would marry in 1995), and “The Answer is Yes” all come with their own brooding bitterness.

As far as heartbreak albums go, Life is Messy is one of the best and lyrically close to brilliant. The main problem lies within the production – producers Bobby Colomby, Larry Klein, and Jeffrey Vanston (along with Leventhal and Crowell) seem confused as to the album’s classification – is it country? Adult Contemporary? Or singer/songwriter? Without a focus, Life Is Messy comes off as a hodgepodge of styles without a chance of maximum success in any one genre. But as a collection of songs, it’s stellar.

Grade: B+

Album Review: Rodney Crowell – ‘Keys To The Highway’

Diamonds & Dirt was always going to be a hard act to follow. The resulting album, released in 1989, is certainly more uneven than its predecessor, but there are some very fine songs here. All the material was written by Rodney, and much of it feels very personal. Rodney produced once more with boss and friend Tony Brown, and his own road band, the Dixie Pearls, provided the nucleus of the backings with guests including another old friend, Vince Gill, on backing vocals.

The first single, the folky ‘Many A Long And Lonesome Highway’ broke his streak of #1s, peaking at a still-respectable #3. It has a gentle melody and introspective lyric about a troubadour-type songwriter’s rambling life, written with Will Jennings, and is an excellent song:

I heard a wild world calling,
I saw a lone star falling
I caught a song and set it free
And many a long and lonesome highway
Lies before us as we go
And in the end I’ll do it my way
Look for me where the four winds blow

The album’s second top 10 hit came with a more contemporary sound. ‘If Looks Could Kill’ incisively depicts a troubled relationship which it is all too tempting to read as a portrait of Rodney’s crumbling marriage to Rosanne Cash, which was to culminate in divorce a couple of years later. It is notable that this record, unlike its predecessor, did not see a duet between the pair.

The insistent ‘My Past Is Present’ (written with Steuart Smith) is a bit lacking in melody but has a bluesy groove that won’t let you go as Rodney is afflicted by the presence of an ex in an “hourglass dress” with her new man. However, it was not received particularly well at radio and missed the top 20.

‘Now That We’re Alone’ did a little better, peaking at #17. The song is melodic and introspective and is another that sounds as though it could have been written about Rosanne with its offer of a sympathetic hearing when:

Too many smiling faces
Try to turn your head around
Too many times and places
When those uptown dreams
Just drag you down

Final single ‘Things I Wish I’d Said was barely played on radio, but is an outstanding song. A delicately tender reflection inspired by his father’s deathbed and their reconciliation, it is the most nakedly honest and personal song on the record, and has a beautiful melody.

The album bogs down a bit in the middle, with a trio of songs which while not bad fail to match the standard of the remainder. The funky bluesy rock of ‘We Gotta Go On Meeting Like This’ written with Larry Willoughby is quite sexy with its story of repeat encounters with a woman “they call … trash”, but there is not much of a tune. ‘The Faith Is Mine’ is an interestingly written song, but repetitive, while the insistently bluesy rock’n roll of ‘Tell Me The Truth’ is definitely too repetitive and feels self-indulgent musically.

In general, the slower songs are the most effective. The song which provides the album title ‘Don’t Let Your Feet Slow You Down’ is truly excellent, a downbeat ballad about a relationship about to come to an end, with a lovely melody as a resigned Rodney generously offers his loved one a graceful exit:

Now you feel like going and you know I’m knowing
The keys to the highway hang right on the wall
If you’ve gotta go, hell, you oughta know
Your blue eyes said goodbye a long time ago

I know you’re hearing sounds of those bright lights downtown
I know how you sparkle when I ain’t around
Your heart is young and my time has come
So don’t let your feet slow you down

‘I Guess We’ve Been Together For Too Long’ is another breakup song, but one with a relatively cheerful mood. Once more, Rodney accepts “something’s wrong” in a relationship which has simply run its course, but here he sounds more than ready to move on himself. Written with Guy Clark, it is quite catchy and might have made a successful single.

Also potentially radio friendly is the wistful and melodic mid-tempo ‘Soul Searchin’, which tells of a past lover, Jessie, and the effect on the protagonist of her enduring memory. The reflective ‘You Been On My Mind’ ends the album on a pensive note as the protagonist thinks once more about an ex he can’t forget. A pretty melody and sensitive vocal make this one another winner.

The singles’ uneven performance was matched by sales which failed to meet those of Diamonds & Dirt (the only gold album of Rodney’s career). It has been overshadowed both because it came in the wake of Diamonds & Dirt, and because his mainstream career slowed down after this, but while it may be a mixed bag, the best songs are great and worth catching up with. Used copies are available cheaply.

Grade: A-

Album Review: Emmylou Harris – ‘Hard Bargain’

Beginning with the release of the rock-oriented Wrecking Ball, Emmylou’s music has been very hit or miss for me. I disliked that 1995 project, which Emmylou herself describes as her “weird album”, and I was similarly disenchanted with 2000’s Red Dirt Girl and 2003’s Stumble Into Grace, although all three albums did have their bright spots. All I Intended To Be, which reunited her with Brian Ahern, was a step back in the right direction for those of us who had longed for another Brand New Dance or Cowgirl’s Prayer, but anyone who thought that her 2008 album was the beginning of a journey back to more traditional country music will perhaps be slightly disappointed with her newest offering Hard Bargain.

I wasn’t sure what to expect with this album, so I came to it without any preconceived notions about the style of music. Having listened to it a few times, I’m not sure how to classify this genre-defying project except to say that by and large, it isn’t country. It’s not the sort of music I generally enjoy listening to, but nevertheless, I found Hard Bargain to be a quite pleasant listening experience. Emmylou wrote the majority of the songs, and only three musicians play all of the instruments on the album: Jay Joyce, who produced the project, Giles Reaves, and Emmylou herself. Although there are some production missteps along the way, the extremely limited number of musicians participating helps them to avoid falling into the trap of wall-of-sound overproduction, such as the kind that plagued Wrecking Ball.

Nearly forty years after she was recruited by Gram Parsons, her mentor still casts a long shadow over Emmylou’s music, as evidenced in the album’s opening track and lead single “The Road”, which talks about the time they spent touring together:

I can still remember
Every song you played
Long ago when we were younger
And we rocked the night away
How could I see a future then
Where you would not grow old
With such a fire in our bellies
Such a hunger in our soul.

… I still think about you
Wonder where you are
Can you see me from some place
Up there among the stars

One of the more heavily-produced tracks on the album, “The Road” has some Daniel Lanois Wrecking Ball-esque production flourishes. It has not charted and is not likely to garner much airplay from country radio.

More stripped down are “Home Sweet Home” and “My Name Is Emmett Till”, a 60s-style folk number that tells the story of a 14-year-old hate crime victim in pre-Civil Rights era Mississippi. “New Orleans”, which Emmylou co-wrote with Will Jennings deals with the floods that ravaged that city after Hurricane Katrina. It’s a surprisingly upbeat-sounding song given the subject matter, and somewhat distracting to listen to due to the way the recording was mixed. The track is somewhat heavy on percussion, and Emmylou’s voice sounds very faint, as if it were recorded through a telephone line. This same flaw plagues the title track and “Cross Yourself”, but not to the same extent as “New Orleans”.

Emmylou is well known for her animal rescue work,a subject that is near and dear to my own heart, and one that is the topic of “Big Black Dog”, a homage to a rescued canine. Large black dogs are the least likely to adopted from shelters, but as Emmylou correctly points out, they can make wonderful pets:

Big black dogs they’re everywhere
Lookin’ for a home they’re hungry and scared
All they need is food and attention
They’ll give you back love
Sometimes redemption I swear
You could find it there
In a big, black dog.

Despite the somewhat somber lyrics, this is an upbeat, almost happy-sounding and surprisingly catchy number.

The most poignant song in this collection and my favorite is “Darlin’ Kate”, Emmylou’s tribute to her good friend and frequent collaborator, the late Kate McGarrigle, who died last year. The, the simple lyrics and acoustic arrangement enhanced by Jay Joyce’s ganjo (six-string banjo) playing, give the track a more country feel than most of the others songs on the album.

I seem to be a sucker for bonus tracks; for some reason they usually end up being some of my favorite tracks, and “To Ohio”, which appears on the deluxe version of Hard Bargain, is no exception. Breaking with the three-musicians-only formula of the rest of the album, Emmylou is joined on this track by the folk band The Low Anthem, who provide very nice duet and harmony vocals. There aren’t any musician credits for this track in the CD booklet, but the production is a little more filled-out on this track, so I suspect the band members are playing some of the instruments.

Overall, while I enjoyed this album quite a bit, it doesn’t quite stack up with the very best of Emmylou’s past work, which admittedly, is a very high standard. Though I would have preferred another All I Intended To Be, or better yet, something closer to the type of albums she regularly released in the 70s, Hard Bargain rates higher than most of Emmylou’s post-1995 work, and should satisfy most of her longtime fans.

Grade: B

Hard Bargain can be purchased from Amazon and iTunes.