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Mitchell: Worthy albums from two country/roots women stalwarts

Emmylou Harris: Hard Bargain (Nonesuch)

I usually listen to Emmylou Harris albums, appreciate and enjoy them for a short while, and then I pass them on to friends and kin who are much bigger fans.

But no one will wrestle this excellent new Harris disc from me as I think it is her best work since the acclaimed new millennium albums Wrecking Ball (no relation to the song of the same name mentioned in the Clark review below) and Red Dirt Girl.

Harris has turned from a song interpreter in her early years to a solid songwriter where she has penned or helped pen almost every track on Hard Bargain—odd that the title track is a cover of a Ron Sexsmith song.

But what really sold me on this disc, other than Harris’ poignant, topical songs like My Name Is Emmet Till (a true story of the murder of a 14-year-old boy by the KKK) and her sometimes hardbitten views on difficult times in America, is the great sound and the superb backing musicians on Hard Bargain.

There are only two extra players here with producer and multi-instrumentalist Jay Joyce and drummer and keyboard player Giles Reaves. They really flesh out the sound here beautifully as Harris and the duo often play a couple of instruments each. This helps out especially on the up-tempo tunes.

Check out the brilliant Wilco-like rocker New Orleans and the swampy funk on Six White Cadillacs that I kept on repeat mode for more than I care to admit.

One of the later tracks on Hard Bargain is titled Darlin’ Kate and I am sure it is a tribute to the late Kate McGarrigle (writer of Linda Ronstadt’s hit song, Heart Like A Wheel) while the gorgeous song just before it, Goodnight Old World, is performed purposefully like a McGarrigle Sisters forgotten gem.

There is just so much to recommend this superb disc, from the pretty guitar work on The Ship On His Arm to the breezy old-timey tribute to her Big Black Dog.

Thirteen tracks and no duds equals an

A

 

Terri Clark: Roots

And Wings (EMI)

 

Terri Clark’s new album came out last week and made an impressive showing at No.4 the same week that Eric Church’s new album Chief made its debut at the No.1 spot on the country charts.

While Church is a relative newcomer, Clark has been on the scene since the mid ’90s and she has expanded beyond the limited Canadian market where Clark has earned several hits Stateside.

Her current hit single in Canada is the old ’70s Trooper nugget We’re Here For A Good Time (Not A Long Time) and you can sure bet writer Ra McGuire is hoping like crazy his old gem crosses over to the USA market (although McGuire has had a very good year financially since Campbell’s soup used his Raise A Little Hell for its TV adverts).

This new Terri Clark disc—I think number 10 in a very successful career—starts off with the hard guitar-driven country rock of Wrecking Ball, the Rolling Stones-like Breakin’ Up Thing and the Rickenbacker guitar ring of the anthemic Northern Girl.

But there are also some more thought-provoking ballads on Roots And Wings since this is Clark’s first album since her mother’s passing, which may somehow explain the CD title Roots And Wings with the earthly and spiritual aspects of this solid album.

The most touching song is of course Smile, as inspired by her mother’s advice to Clark as a young child, and this song is rendered beautifully with the backing vocals of Alison Krauss.

The opening rockers and the Trooper good time cover prove Clark’s resilience and her mothers good guidance but there is also some hurting songs here with Beautiful And Broken and Flowers In The Snow that gives Roots And Wings some nice balance.

B-

 

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