Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be

Emmylou Harris
All I Intended to Be

It’s easy to view this album as a homecoming of sorts for Emmylou Harris. She is reunited with producer Brian Ahern, who helmed her seminal records from the seventies and early eighties. She’s also accompanied by her most country arrangements since 1993’s Cowgirl’s Prayer.    But while Harris is clearly revisiting her past, she is not reveling in it or even recreating it, as the adventurous spirit of her most recent work is here, and best characterized by the presence of Americana songwriters like Patty Griffin and Harris’ own increasingly ambitious songwriting.

All I Intended to Be finds Emmylou Harris showing her age, in the very best sense.    The twin themes of the project are coming to terms with the past and knowing of an increasingly short future, with all of the accompanying issues of regret and nervous anticipation that those issues create.    On the album’s best tracks, there’s a combination of both.

Harris penned the album’s strongest song, “Not Enough”, where a woman wrestles with the finality of the death of her loved one.   She sings to her departed, “Life is long and life is tough, but when you love someone, life is not long enough.”    She also penned the beautifully sad “Gold”, where she admits defeat in a relationship defined by her failure to meet her lover’s expectations:  “I finally gave up counting the ways you said I let you down,” she sings, adding that “I could come trailing clouds of glory, but you saw nothing to behold.  No matter how bright I glittered, baby, I could never be gold.”

Harris’ own songs are complemented by stellar contributions from top songwriters, the most welcome being the much-needed return of Jude Johnstone, who penned the title cut for Trisha Yearwood’s Hearts in Armor. “Hold On” attempts to empower the downtrodden saddled with regret, while Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have is Your Soul” keeps the focus on salvation, reminding not to bargain away the only thing you’ll be left with in the end.

The album closes with a beautiful rendition of “Beyond the Great Divide”, which doesn’t so much end the album on a spiritual note as close what has been a spiritual journey from the beginning.   Harris has always made music for adults, and the message of All I Intended to Be is that it’s never too late to look ahead, even when the long path behind you keeps you looking back.

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9 Comments

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9 Responses to Emmylou Harris, All I Intended to Be

  1. LeeannNo Gravatar

    I’m glad you reviewed this. I couldn’t tell, from the amazon clips, if I would like it. I think I should just take a leap of faith and buy it though. I’d hate for my Emmylou collection to be incomplete.

  2. It’s really, really hard to go wrong with Emmylou. She has to have one of the lowest buyer’s remorse rates in music history, at least among people who already own at least one of her albums.

  3. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Well, there are a couple of albums of hers that I don’t really care for…(too much eighties influence or something?). But I have not regretted most of my Emmylou album purchases.

  4. I think this is her best work in a while, I wasn’t a fan of her last couple of albums so I think this is a return to form for Emmylou.

  5. LynnNo Gravatar

    If you just want to start with a couple of songs, my current two favorites are: “All That You Have Is Your Soul” and “Broken Man’s Lament.”

  6. CFNo Gravatar

    I really like Emmylou and was excited that she had new music out. The only track that really stood out to me was “Gold” because of how classic it sounded (I can hear Dolly on there with her too).

  7. LeeannNo Gravatar

    Well, I bought the album this morning. I agree that it was a worthwhile purchase and definitely don’t regret it! My only complaint, albeit a small one, is that it’s very mellow, no uptempo songs. As Kevin said in his “Favorite Songs” article, she’s not known for her rompers. I like it when she does them though. Like CF, my favorite one as of now is “Gold.”

  8. mazielou

    I think one of Emmylou’s best. The way she can make a song her own is breathtaking. Her version of Jude Johnstone’s song “Hold On,” is hauntingly delivered in her passionate, beautiful voice. I agree with the reviewer that Jude Johnstone is a special songwriter and wish we could hear more from her.

  9. Ron

    I have all of emmy’s albums and seen her each time she has visited Western Australia,am a country muso and love all of her work. This one is fantastic but then they all are . He photos adorn the wall of my studio and we do a lot of her songs. Keep them coming Emmylou we all love ya .