Emmylou talks ‘Hard Bargain’
To say there is a strong Canadian thread holding Hard Bargain — the latest album from country-folk veteran Emmylou Harris — together is a bit of an understatement.
Not only is the title track a cover of a tune by Toronto singer Ron Sexsmith, but 64-year-old 12-time Grammy winner Harris also pays tribute to longtime friend and fellow folkie Kate McGarrigle, who died in her hometown of Montreal from cancer last year, on Darlin’ Kate, one of 11 Harris originals on the disc in stores Tuesday.
“Everybody’s giving me a lot of kudos (for covering Hard Bargain) — I’m just grateful to have such a great song,” said the Birmingham-born Harris, in Toronto recently for Canadian Music Week where she played at the Songwriter’s Circle.
“I love the sentiment of that song. No matter how weary we get, we’re always pulled back in life. Whatever it is, whatever you want to call it, if you believe it’s God, if you believe it’s the universe, or just the irresistible force of life, of being in this world. But, to me, it’s like a spiritual.”
Harris, whose relationship with Kate and Anna McGarrigle (The McGarrigle Sisters) dates back 35 years, said she had “the great honour” of being at the hospital when Kate passed away.
“Our albums came out at the same time (1975) on the same label (Reprise) and I’ve been fans of theirs since the first time I heard them but I feel like I’ve known them all that time. It was probably in the ’80s when we started (collaborating). I know I brought them to Nashville to sing on a record so I obviously knew them before that. I threw myself at them shamelessly. I just wanted to be a McGarrigle.”
That Darlin’ Kate, along with another Harris original, The Road — which looks at the formative time she spent with country/rock icon Gram Parsons at the beginning of her career — should be two of Hard Bargain’s standouts should come as no surprise.
There is one other cover on the disc, Cross Yourself, written by Hard Bargain producer-guitarist Jay Joyce (Reservoir Dogs and Country Strong soundtracks) who recorded the album in just one month with only a third musician, Giles Reeves.
“Of course my friendship was pretty solid with Kate when we found out that she had cancer and she really fought it,” said Harris. “And then in October before she died we played in Montreal and Kate and Anna came and they sang with us and the last song that I heard her do — I requested she and Anna to do Talk to Me of Mendocino as an encore — and, of course not knowing, because she still seemed like she was going to beat it somehow.
“But it wasn’t long after that she got (the news) that there was nothing more they could do. And so I got the call that she was probably dying. I got up there and was able to be there when she died. The family very, very generously invited me to be there and I had never stood vigil with anyone before. And then I was able to come and sing at the funeral. (Her son) Rufus (Wainwright) asked me to sing Mendocino.”
Harris has since sung Darlin’ Kate live and says it feels like a celebration of McGarrigle’s life and isn’t hard to perform. Writing it was another matter.
“I had a few emotional moments but the song kind of fell out. You know when you’re writing, you just get into that mode and the line, ‘And so it’s finally come,’ it just came out and the rest of it was just a farewell letter to her.”
So far Harris’ only Canadian date is July 9 at the Mariposa Folk Festival in Orillia, Ont.
Emmylou Harris pays tribute to mentor
Emmylou Harris has forever been linked to the late country-rock legend and her mentor Gram Parsons, who died of an accidental drug and alcohol overdose in 1973.
Parsons heard Harris sing at a Washington club and invited her to sing on his acclaimed solo debut, 1973’s GP, and the 1974 follow-up, the now classic, Grevious Angel, the latter released after his death.
So it should come as no surprise that Harris has once again written about Parsons on the new song, The Road, on her latest album, Hard Bargain, in stores Tuesday.
“(My 1975 song) Boulder (To Birmingham), of course, was written in a deep grief still dealing with the shock of just losing someone at that young age,” said Harris of her first Parsons song. “Whereas The Road is more a reflective song of looking back with a great deal of gratitude at the blessing when certain people intersect your life and change your life. Really the whole point of the song is the last line of the song, ‘On that road, I’m glad I came to know you, my old friend.’ And really I could have just said that but it wouldn’t have been a song.”
Emmylou talks ‘Hard Bargain’