Emmylou Harris "All I Intended To Be" (Nonesuch, 2008)
Country veteran proves she can still hit the heights on 21st studio album
The difficulty in reviewing new albums by performers such as Emmylou is that they have become such legendary figures that it’s hard to be objective in approach; one has usually developed a fairly formed opinion of the artist by now, for good or bad.
But here it comes, her first new release since 2003’s “Stumble Into Grace”, and a reunion with Brian Ahern, producer of her first eleven albums. Emmylou has never been concerned with filling records with her own songs, and only five of the thirteen here bear her credit. Of the latter, ‘Gold’ is particularly fine, humming along on brushed drums and meandering lap steel. Two collaborations with Kate and Anna McGarrigle feature here, and both are among the most fresh and vibrant pieces on this collection.
As one would expect from an album with a four-year gestation period, “All I Intended To Be” doesn’t have many rough edges, the production is slick, though that’s not to say ineffective. Throughout, the instrumental backing is effective and whilst perhaps a little smooth for some tastes, is never allowed to obscure the main attraction, Emmylou herself. That once angelic, pure voice is now a more earthy, husky instrument, yet it still remains haunting, and her ability to deliver the songs of others remains one of her main strengths. Key examples on this record include opener ‘Shores of White Sand’, an understated ‘Moon Song’, and a weary yet defiant rendition of closer ‘Beyond The Great Divide’.
“I was a pretty young girl once” she sings on an excellent performance of Tracy Chapman’s ‘All That You Have Is Your Soul’ delivered in a lower, half-speaking register, and there’s a nice duet with John Starling on ‘Old Five And Dimers Like Me’, with some beautiful fiddle and mandolin accompaniment.
This is not Emmylou’s masterpiece; it lacks the reinvention and energy of 1994’s landmark “Wrecking Ball”, and at times songs drift by, such as a pleasant but forgettable rendition of Merle Haggard’s ‘Kern River’, the same of which could be said of her own ‘Not Enough’. At times, the plethora of backing voices, including Dolly Parton and the McGarrigles, can grate when Emmylou is still quite capable of delivering without assistance from anyone.
“All I Intended To Be” is unlikely to win her many new fans as it doesn’t really break new ground, and some may find the production a tad too polished. Nevertheless, this is fine record, built by skilled hands, and a worthy addition to the canon of one of America’s finest country voices. For fans in particular, approach with confidence.
Date review added: Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Reviewer: Andy Griffiths
Related web link: Emmylou Harris Official Website