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Emmylou Harris All I Intended To Be Review

Album. Released 2008.  

BBC Review

Harris is on fine form for this, her first solo album in five years.

Jon Lusk 2008

Belatedly inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame last month, Harris is on fine form for this, her first solo album in five years. It’s been a quarter of a century since she last worked with ex-husband Brian Ahern, but according to her, the two get along just fine these days.

Harris's last two albums; the overrated Red Dirt Girl (2000) and the underwhelming Stumble Into Grace (2003), both suffered from an over-reliance on her song-writing skills, but All I Intended To Be finds a comfortable balance. Mixing well chosen covers and original material, Harris includes two pieces co-written with long-term collaborators Kate and Anna McGarrigle.

It's her most consistent effort since Wrecking Ball (1995), but has little in common with that album's rocked-up, grainily atmospheric sound. Instead, Ahern's warm, unaffected production often harks back to classic 1970s
country, albeit far closer to, say, Guy Clark’s Old Number One than any string-laden Nashville schlock.

Harris has a wonderful knack for making others' songs sound like they were written for her, and Jack Wesley Routh's anthemic, Celtic-flavoured opener Shores of White Sand is a good example. In the case of Tracey Chapman's All That You Have Is Your Soul and Merle Haggard's drowning ballad Kern River, Harris actually improves on the originals. Billy Joe Shaver's Old Five And Dimers Like Me is done as fine duet with John Starling, with stirling backing vocals and dobro from Mike Auldridge, one of the record's most outstanding supporting musicians. Also worth a mention is Phil Madeira's shimmering accordion on Patti Griffin's lovely Moon Song.

Although there's no obvious filler, the originals can't quite match the high standard of the covers they sit beside. Of the better Harris-penned tracks, Gold features an unmistakeable harmony vocal by Dolly Parton, while How She Could Sing The Wild Wood Flower is gilded by the McGarrigles’ sibling harmonies.

At 61, Harris copes admirably with her changing vocal chords by retreating into breathless whispers on some high notes – something of a trademark in recent years – and shows that having a great voice and being a great singer are not the same thing.

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