Hard Nose the Highway is psychologically complex, musically somewhat uneven and lyrically excellent. Its surface pleasures are a little less than those of St. Dominic's Preview and a great deal less than those of Tupelo Honey, while its lyric depths are richer and more accessible than those of either predecessor. The major theme of Hard Nose is nostalgia, briefly but firmly counter-pointed by disillusion. The latter sentiment Van spews out in the album's one ugly, self-indulgent song, "The Great Deception," a vicious indictment of hip urban culture and rock affluence….
The cut-by-cut schematization of Hard Nose is fairly loose. Side one comprises five songs, beginning with "Snow in San Anselmo" and closing with "The Great Deception." "Snow" is alternately contemplative and rapturous in its recollection of a near-miraculous occurrence….
["Warm Love"] embodies in all its details a sensuous appreciation of life and music….
"Wild Children," which delves deeply into Van's personal mythology from childhood through adolescence, is the album's most historically resonant song. Against early memories of returning soldiers, Van identifies his growing-up with the figures of Tennessee Williams, Rod Steiger, Marlon Brando and James Dean….
As was the case in St. Dominic's Preview, the second side of the album turns out to be better than the first. The ten-minute "Autumn Song" demonstrates anew Van's gift at creating extended meditations that accumulate emotional power as they unfold in modified, impressionistic streams of consciousness…. [Morrison evokes,] as few contemporary composers have, the ineffable joys of daily life in attunement to a pleasant environment.
Stephen Holden, "Van Morrison: Nostalgia & the Mystic," in Rolling Stone (by Straight Arrow Publishers, Inc. © 1973; all rights reserved; reprinted by permission), Issue 144, September 27, 1973, p. 100.