When you have a voice like Emmylou Harris
, you may as well sing the saddest songs you can find. Even the title of this record, All I Intended to Be
, is drenched with sadness and regret. Joined here by some of Nashville's finest musicians—Vince Gill, Dolly Parton, Stuart Duncan, and others—Harris delivers just what you'd expect from her at this point: a heart-wrenching album full of sad, lonely songs with lines that tug hard and cry harder.
The Country-Folk Sound
Emmylou Harris is one of America's greatest living country-folk singer/songwriters. Throughout her 40-year career (which has included nearly two dozen albums), Harris has exquisitely melded her folkie roots with those of her classic country influences. Here, on All I Intended to Be
, she reunites with producer Brian Ahern, with whom she worked on 1975's Pieces of the Sky
, among other early efforts.
Much like those early albums, All I Intended to Be is more angled toward contemporary folk music with country elements than the other way around. "All That You Have Is Your Soul" (purchase/download), for example, is an excellent song about the intertwinings of the personal and political. Using the classic folk model of innumerable short verses and a single-lined memorable refrain, this is one of the strongest songs on the album.
The Sadder the Song...
Emmylou Harrisphoto: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images
Of course, like so much of Harris' work through the years, All I Intended to Be
is chock full of sad, broken-hearted dirges. Most moving among them is "Not Enough" (purchase/download
), where she sings about coming home to bury a deceased lover. "You're in my heart," she sings, "that's not close enough."
She also gives Merle Haggard's "Kern River" (purchase/download) an excellent turn, capturing all the sadness and regret Haggard had presumably intended, without taking it into the realm of gratuitous sadness.
"Gold" (purchase/download) sings to the type of relationship that makes one feel as though they can never do enough or be good enough. "I've been forsaken by everything I thought was mine," she sings as the song gets rolling.
Emmylou Harris Delivers
As usual, Harris delivers on this album. At this point, it would be remarkable if she managed to fall short. Sure, her songs are incredibly sad, but their melodies have away of being beautiful as lullabies. If you're not looking to grovel in your sadness, Harris' work is just as sublime in the background.
Her employing of harmony and the various instruments at hand—particularly the arrangements on accordion (particularly on "Moon Song")—are absolutely exquisite.
As much as the sad songs prevail on this record, there are also the songs about endurance and keeping the faith despite the darkness. The album may start out feeling hopeless, but it ends with a back-to-back dose of beautiful melodies on "Hold On" and "Shores of White Sand"—both of which sing to life's more hopeful, optimistic turns.