Quarter Moon in a Ten Cent Town follows Harris’s most successful LP, Luxury Liner—the country charts ate it up, which speaks not well for Harris but ill for the charts—and it’s the safest, most bland offering imaginable: a make-out album for the sensitive. Harris is singing so carefully here there’s not a chance she’ll take over a song (all ten are by other writers) and make it her own. The music might be reassuring—that’s why you could make out to it—but only because you’ve heard it a hundred times before. “My Songbird,” Jesse Winchester’s corniest song, was cut and dried before it was written; U. Utah Phillips’ “Green Rolling Hills” is adamant in its determination to keep novel ideas out of its lyrics; Delbert McClinton’s “Two More Bottles of Wine” is pure country ready-made. They’re the sort of songs real singers—black, white, country or soul—take as a challenge, daring the banality of the material to snuff out the force of their personalities; as a singer, Harris has no personality, so she just walks through her numbers by rote. The only signs of life on Quarter Moon come between the lines: with Emory Gordy’s bass on “I Ain’t Living Long like This” (he’s spooky, and, for a moment, we’re in the territory J. J. Cale mapped out on “Going Down” and “Travelin’ Light”) and with Garth Hudson’s accordion and Rick Danko’s fiddle on “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight.” Otherwise, the music is merely well-made and well-paid: clean and perfunctory.
Harris has it all down: there isn’t a crack in the country voice, a choke in the throat, a flirt or a twang that she hasn’t learned by heart. She simply can’t bring any heart to what she’s learned, and she’s become to country what John Hammond Jr. was to blues: a surrogate for people who don’t really like the stuff—or for people who think they like it, but can’t relate to the crudity and the sometimes scary depths of the people who make the real stuff. This means that while Harris clearly loves the music she sings at, she’s not an imitator; she’s an obstacle.
Rolling Stone, March 9, 1978