All I Intended To Be
At this stage in her illustrious 4 decade long career Emmylou Harris’ choice of title for her new album is a telling one. All That I Intended To Be could be a summation of her success but when you listen to that line in the context of the song “Old Five & Dimers Like Me” you realize it’s more a statement on her philosophy of life. The ballad, written and co-sung by Billy Joe Shaver, serves as an anchor for an album that sails on stories of life’s hard won lessons.
Harris spent more than 3 years putting this album together and her choices during that lengthily process remains consistent; every song is distinct but contributes to the whole. Every player is well placed and the choice of producer is both magical and nostalgic. All that I Intended To Be reunites Harris, for the first time in nearly a quarter century, with ex-husband Brian Ahern, the man who produced her first 11 albums. Ahern’s production style emphasizes the spatial relationships between instruments, allowing each to breathe without crowding out or competing with the other. The end result is that all individual instruments shine without pulling undue attention away from the albums core feature – Emmylou Harris’ voice and 13 gorgeous songs.
As she has done on so many past albums, Harris selects a number of talented writers to highlight. Opening with Jack Wesley Routh’s “Shores of White Sand” Harris spotlights the close relationship between country and Celtic balladry. Jude Johnstone, who has labored as a songwriter despite a number of excellent releases, is given recognition as her song “Hold On” is the album’s first single. Patty Griffin’s beautiful “Moon Song” is another sad song about the struggle for self-worth that Griffin has mined before and that Harris explores throughout this release. Harris delves more deeply and personally into this subject matter on her heartbreaking self-penned number “Broken Man’s Lament.” Harris paints a portrait of a man who has lost the most important pieces of himself and now suffices with drink and old Proco Harem records. Harris follows up with another great new song, “Gold” in which she sings “No matter how bright I glittered baby/I could never be gold.
Harris has struck up a wonderful songwriting collaboration with Kate & Anna McGarrigle and it has brought forth two of the best songs on the release. “How She Could Sing the Wildwood Flower” is a paean to the great songwriting tradition of the Carter Family. With it’s plucked guitar, banjo and autoharp, I’m sure it will have the ghost of June Carter Cash smiling. “Sailing Round the Room” is more typical of a McGarrigle song with evocative lyrics, sweet melody, accordion and a rich chorus featuring both sisters and Harris.
Emmylou Harris has long been a spiritually motivated singer and her cover of Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have Is Your Soul” is particularly appropriate for an album that continues to explore the inner workings of a true American icon.