On his 2004 album Coin of the Realm, Jack Hardy abandoned his usual folk-rock backing band, and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar and harmonica, he turned in a set that had a demo-like quality. It was an appropriate approach for a batch of unusually personal songs that also had a political impetus, coming in the middle of a presidential election campaign. Noir, his 2007 follow-up, is much more business as usual for this veteran singer/songwriter, who prefers to write highly crafted songs in a variety of styles and then sing them carefully over band arrangements. That's what he does here, noting a copyright range of 1997 to 2007, so some of these songs come out of the trunk. They vary from "Uley Mill Song," on which the singer inhabits the character of an Irish millworker expatriated to England in the early 19th century, to "In Memory of Federico Garcia Lorca," a reminiscence of and tribute to the Spanish writer. "Breakout" seems to be a piece of abstract poetry set to music. "Empires," threaded through with Tom Duval's Chet Atkins-by-way-of-Mark Knopfler guitar work, considers the rises and falls of various empires throughout history while tying King George III in with George W. Bush (and, of course, neither portrayal is favorable). That's one song that might have fit on Coin of the Realm, but in general, Noir is closer to the kind of album Hardy's fans have come to expect, a more polished and diverse effort.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann