Album Review: Emmylou Harris – All I Intended to Be

As regular readers of this site know, I’m rather fond of my sweetheart Emmylou–to the point where a Google search for “my sweetheart Emmylou” brings up this site as number one and number two (I’m sure that won’t scare anyone…).

So I’m sorry to report that her latest album, All I Intended to Be, is a bit of a disappointment.  Despite a number of fine songs and her usual top-caliber vocal performances, it never really registers.

The first problem is that all of the songs are about the same tempo.  One doesn’t expect a bunch of rockers on an Emmylou Harris album, but something to jazz things up a bit would have helped a lot.

In addition, the production on each song is quite similar to the one before and after it.  The result is almost ambient country–pleasant enough, but it all fades into the background.

This is a shame, because taken track by track, there are a number of good songs here.  Patty Griffin’s “Moon Song” drifted by me for several listens before I realized that it was really quite beautiful.  Other standouts, that unfortunately don’t really stand out, are Merle Haggard’s “Kern River” and Harris’ own “Gold.”

Really, the only bum note on the whole thing is Tracy Chapman’s “All That You Have is Your Soul,” a preachy folksinger number completely unsuited to Harris, usually ace at picking material.  It’s not the preachiest thing Chapman’s ever written, but it’s still too much: “Hunger only for a taste of justice / Hunger only for a world of truth.”  What’s especially too bad about this is that a better Chapman song–“Baby Can I Hold You” would have been a great one–might have given this album just the kick it needed.

I guess it’s pretty much obsolete at this point, but this is the sort of album that was born to be in a five-disc shuffle play, forcing some variety to break things up and allow the songs to stand on their own merits, rather than simply float away.

Here’s the opening track, “Shores of White Sand,” live from the Letterman show.

Here’s a live version of “Gold,” with Buddy Miller.  On the album, Dolly Parton provides harmonies, which, to state the obvious, is pretty great.

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