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Music Review: Emmylou Harris – All I Intended To Be

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Written by Muchacha Motorista

I’m going to tell you right off the bat: I love Emmylou Harris’ new album, All I Intended To Be. Complete with original material as well as covers, it is an essential listen for fans of old country music and folk.

It is mournful, soulful. Not something you want to have playing at your kid’s birthday party or on a road trip with your girls to Vegas, but sitting on the patio in the sun in a quiet mood. Or sitting on the floor of a dark room with a drink. Or looking through old photographs of times gone by and missing the people in the pictures.

The songs on All I Intended To Be run the gamut. There’s Joan Baez-ish storytelling in the sad songs of loss such as "Broken Man’s Lament" (written by Mark Germino) and "Kern River" (Merle Haggard). There are songs that give hope in the midst of sorrow, such as Jack Wesley Routh’s "Shores of White Sand" where she sings, “Some say I’m sinking into the muddy waters, but somehow I’m sailing to shores of white sand.”

One of the most interesting takes at a cover is "All That You Have Is Your Soul." I’ve always loved Tracy Chapman’s version, and the first round of listening to Harris’ version left me with something to be desired. Where Chapman’s vocals give the mother’s cautionary tale instant depth and desperation, Harris’ voice seemed far too gentle. But I listened again, and again. And I can see the narrator in Harris’ version now as well. It isn’t the same mother that’s in Chapman’s version. This mother is a smoother, quieter mother. The narrator in Chapman’s version will have always known her mother’s story, will have heard the tale from as far back as she can remember. The narrator in Harris’ version may have found out her mother’s story and been surprised by her mother’s struggles and regrets. Both versions have merit unto themselves, and I really enjoyed hearing the different takes at the story.

I’ve always liked the title track from Harris’ Red Dirt Girl album for its honest depiction of despair, summed up in the line, “One thing they don't tell you about the blues when you got ‘em, you keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom, there ain't no end.” The song that hits the same note, and surpasses Red Dirt Girl simply because of the honesty and love in it, is my favorite song on the album: "Not Enough."

"Not Enough" (written by Harris herself) is about the loss of a loved one, approaching the mixed emotions one feels from a different angle. Instead of the passive “remember the good times” outlook, it explores the agony that all beautiful things leave behind after loss. “You’re in my heart,” she sings, “but that’s not close enough.” The years cut short and disappear, the memories are now only fading pictures, seeing the ties that bind lay severed. Poignant to a level of despair, but honest to every degree. The last line of the song cuts to the root of loss: “Life is long and life is tough, but when you love someone, life’s not long enough.”

If you’re in a good mood, pick up this album and set it aside. But when you’re blue and just want to give into it for a while, grab a drink, turn off your phone, and play All I Intended To Be as your soundtrack.

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