Music

Emmylou Harris: All I Intended to Be

Whether writing or re-interpreting, Harris ingeniously utilizes the affability of each song’s structure with grace and respect, employing her crystalline voice to buff its rough components into a jewel.


Emmylou Harris

All I Intended to Be

Label: Nonesuch
US Release Date: 2008-06-10
UK Release Date: 2008-06-09
Amazon
iTunes

There is perhaps no more prolific a contemporary country siren than Emmylou Harris. In an extensive career, spanning nearly four decades, Ms. Harris has been a mainstay alongside the genre’s pillars, penning countless introspective and touching narratives to luminous melodies. Her April induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame seemed long overdue.

On her latest release, All I Intended to Be, Harris presents the listener with another wunderkammer of musical gems, a deep and broad curatorial collection of earnest ballads, harmonious duets and collaborations, and revisited memories that serves as a keystone to her ever comprehensive career. As she explains it, “I’ve always seen myself as a relentless song-finder, a singer of other people’s work whom I admire greatly, and an occasional songwriter.” In other words, Emmylou is still doing her thing.

Working with producer Brian Ahern -- with whom she recorded for her first 11 years -- All I Intended to Be took over three years to record, so it’s remarkable it maintains the lucid consistency it does. An amalgamation of original songs and documented treasures, the album blends eras, writers, and themes as effortlessly as Harris can lament another lost love (“Broken Man’s Lament”). The album gets its name from a line in the Bill Joe Shaver tune “Old Five and Dimers Like Me”, an outlaw-country ballad whose grim tone is revived by John Starling’s duet vocal and winding mandolin lines. Yet its somber self-awareness is elusive in the song’s confounding lyrics until the sobering last line: “An old five and dimer is all I intended to be”.

The opening song, “Shore of White Sand”, immediately envelops the album in a sense of custodial reverence that began with its conception. Written by Jack Wesley Routh, Harris idolized a 1982 Karen Brooks recording that featured the late Doobie Brothers/Southern Pacific drummer Keith Knudsen. Out of adoration for the track and respect for Knudsen, Harris cut the song using his original drum tracks with Brooks’ and Warner Brothers’ blessings. The result is an emotionally epic track with vivid water imagery and lush harmonies.

The rest of the album balances sorrowful songs with those of strength and retrospective wisdom. The former -- manifested in the spacious arrangements of “Broken Man’s Lament”, the Appalachian sounding “How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower”, and Merle Haggard’s lamentation “Kern River” -- are flanked by accompaniments rich with subtleties that embellish each ache and sigh. On “Broken Man’s Lament”, it’s Ahern’s weaving baritone electric guitar that builds into soaring choric “Ooohs.” And the McGarrigle sisters’ vocals, according to Harris, are the “real treasure” of “How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower”, one of the album's most moving tracks. All the while, dobro, steel guitar, and John Sterling’s backing vocals provide the ache on “Kern River”.

But the above alternative sense of loss is righted by the redemptive tone of other tracks. Like the endearing “Hold On”, on which listeners catch Harris’s clear-like-glass falsetto and Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have Is Your Soul”. The latter rumination on self-respect and virtue is a perfect example of Harris’s remarkable ability to reshape an already distinct harmony and tone into a euphonious ballad, not unlike her recording of “For No One”.

Harris’ own dialogue with God is captured in the meditative “Take That Ride”. It beautifully reflects the apparent futility in prayer and fate’s inevitability and mystery. Similarly, the closing track, Routh and J.C. Crowley’s “The Great Divide”, with an Eagles-esque conga lingering, looks ahead to a dusky, somewhat removed, Eden-like future.

As a whole All I Intended to Be seems like a docile album. But Harris ingeniously utilizes the affability of each song’s structure with grace and respect, employing her crystalline voice to buff its rough components into a jewel.

7
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Books

90 Years on 'Olivia' Remains a Classic of Lesbian Literature

It's good that we have our happy LGBTQ stories today, but it's also important to appreciate and understand the daunting depths of feeling that a love repressed can produce. In Dorothy Strachey's case, it produced the masterful Olivia.

Music

Indie Rocker Alpha Cat Presents 'Live at Vox Pop' (album stream)

A raw live set from Brooklyn in the summer of 2005 found Alpha Cat returning to the stage after personal tumult. Sales benefit organizations seeking to end discrimination toward those seeking help with mental health issues.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

A Lesson from the Avengers for Our Time of COVID-19

Whereas the heroes in Avengers: Endgame stew for five years, our grief has barely taken us to the after-credit sequence. Someone page Captain Marvel, please.

Music

Between the Grooves of Nirvana's 'Nevermind'

Our writers undertake a track-by-track analysis of the most celebrated album of the 1990s: Nirvana's Nevermind. From the surprise hit that brought grunge to the masses, to the hidden cacophonous noise-fest that may not even be on your copy of the record, it's all here.

Music

Deeper Graves Arrives via 'Open Roads' (album stream)

Chrome Waves, ex-Nachtmystium man Jeff Wilson offers up solo debut, Open Roads, featuring dark and remarkable sounds in tune with Sisters of Mercy and Bauhaus.

Featured: Top of Home Page

The 50 Best Albums of 2020 So Far

Even in the coronavirus-shortened record release schedule of 2020, the year has offered a mountainous feast of sublime music. The 50 best albums of 2020 so far are an eclectic and increasingly "woke" bunch.

Books

First Tragedy, Then Farce, Then What?

Riffing off Marx's riff on Hegel on history, art historian and critic Hal Foster contemplates political culture and cultural politics in the age of Donald Trump in What Comes After Farce?

Reviews

HAIM Create Their Best Album with 'Women in Music Pt. III'

On Women in Music Pt. III, HAIM are done pretending and ready to be themselves. By learning to embrace the power in their weakest points, the group have created their best work to date.

Music

Amnesia Scanner's 'Tearless' Aesthetically Maps the Failing Anthropocene

Amnesia Scanner's Tearless aesthetically maps the failing Anthropocene through its globally connected features and experimental mesh of deconstructed club, reggaeton, and metalcore.

Music

How Lasting Is the Legacy of the Live 8 Charity Concert?

A voyage to the bottom of a T-shirt drawer prompts a look back at a major event in the history of celebrity charity concerts, 2005's Live 8, Philadelphia.

Music

Jessie Ware Embraces Her Club Culture Roots on Rapturous 'What's Your Pleasure?'

British diva Jessie Ware cooks up a glittery collection of hedonistic disco tracks and delivers one of the year's best records with What's Your Pleasure.

Music

Paul Weller Dazzles with the Psychedelic and Soulful 'On Sunset'

Paul Weller's On Sunset continues his recent streak of experimental yet tuneful masterworks. More than 40 years into his musical career, Weller sounds as fresh and inspired as ever.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.