Emmylou Harris is one of the great American treasures. Iconic in it’s proportion, her career has now spanned four decades. She has continuously blurred genres and accumulated accomplishments with grace, strength, and a continuing desire for artistic growth. With over 15 million albums sold, 12 Grammy Awards and a tremendous body of work in collaborations, you’d think she’d had the best of her days. But Harris is not one to rest on her laurels. Instead she remains in pursuit of the song, reaching for those gems that bring her satisfaction in recording and us pleasure in her remarkable portrayals. This passion has brought forth a new addition to her stunning collection, her latest release All I Intended To Be. The album is not for the faint of heart. It hits on heavy subject matter and brings forth life’s beauty and travesties in a woven piece of true art. Harris’ mournful-yet-wise signature vibrato rises and falls with resigned elegance in an array of originals and adopted covers.
One such cover-gem is the opening track “Shores of White Sand,” a song Brian Ahern (her ex-husband) had produced for Karen Brooks in the ’80’s. Harris had yearned to cover the song for years, and when Keith Knutson (an old friend of Harris and the drummer on the original track) passed away, she went to Ahern with the idea of recording the song as a tribute to Knutson. The original track was utilized, with the addition of Buddy Miller, Stuart Duncan and Harris on vocals and acoustic guitar, and the effect is a symphonic resonance of beauty and change. The result of the Ahern-Harris reunion was so gratifying, Ahern stayed on to produce the entire album.
“Hold On” carries a soft marching undertone in a song of strength over struggle. She moves into Patty Griffin’s “Moon Song” with a lilt barely above a whisper. I must say, I prefer this version more than the original. It’s simplistic and enfolds the listener as if enveloped in a lullaby. “Broken Man’s Lament” revisits her early folk loving days with it’s mournful storytelling. “Gold”, a stunning original, is a definite highlight as Dolly Parton and Vince Gill sorrowfully echo behind her…..
You gave up your finest treasure
for the one you saw in me
but how could I know the measure
of all you needed me to be
Though I came with sweet intentions
more my pockets could not hold
no matter how bright I glittered, baby
I could never be gold
In a homage to the Carter Family, “How Could She Sing The Wildwood Flower”, co-written and accompanied by Kate and Anna McGarrigle, Harris moves fluidly through folk and country all at once. Another remarkable remake is “All You Have Is Your Soul”, a Tracey Chapman jewel. Beautifully executed, it essentially sums up the philosophy of Harris’ career. She moves into “Take That Ride”, and lost love and reflection is once again the theme. A duet with John Starling on Billy Joe Shaver’s “Old Five and Dimers Like Me” (where a line is utilized in the album title is a slowed down and more mournful take, but affecting none the less. She nods to another country legend on Haggard’s “Kern River”, a softly saddened tale. She confronts the theme of death in two more originals, “Not Enough” and “Sailing Around The Room.” “Sailing” was inspired by the story of Terry Shiavo, and is more of a celebration of life and transition. “Not Enough” has Harris at her most vulnerable with a hint of a quiet, desperate anger in having to bury a loved one. Perhaps the most moving of all the tracks, it solidifies the fact that this album may be her best work to date.
A spiritual rendition of Marty Stuart’s “Beyond The Great Divide” ends Harris’ introspection of life, death, and what may come, and brings the assortment to a nice resolution. Voted by several publications as one of the best albums of 2008, I have to agree that All I Intended to Be is pure excellence.
To share this article, copy this link:
Richard Diehn hails from the hills of Northern West Virginia where he grew up as a member of his family’s traveling band. He’s a writer, storyteller, and petrologist (Rockhound). He enjoys fishing, kite flying with his daughter, Gentleman Jack, and stalking his favorite country singer, George Jones.
Outlaw Magazine. Country, Rock and Roll, Blues, Folk, Americana, Punk. As long as it is real, it is OUTLAW. Overproduced mediocrity need not apply.