Not unlike Janet McTeer's lead character in the 2000 film Songcatcher, Emmylou Harris is a musicologist who collects songs the way some people hoard baseball cards. Over a four-decade career, Harris has established herself as one of country music's foremost interpreters with quite a maverick streak in her, covering everyone from the Louvin Brothers and Patsy Cline to Donna Summer and Jimi Hendrix. With All I Intended to Be, she returns to exploring other artists' canons after having written most of the material for her prior two albums, and the album's tone harks back to the acoustic and rootsier sound of Harris' earlier work.
Further enhancing this return to the past was her decision to work with Brian Ahern, ex-husband and producer of her '70s catalog, in addition to a number of sidemen and artists she's worked with in the past, including members of Washington, DC bluegrass outfit Seldom Scene, Dolly Parton, and Vince Gill. When she's not using her crystalline vocals to duet with John Starling on the Billy Joe Shaver's wry "Old Five and Dimers Like Me" or Merle Haggard's regretful lament "Kern River," Harris ends up fitting hand-in-glove writing and recording with Canada's Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Most notable is "Sailing Round the Room," a tale of leaving this mortal coil and floating out the window framed by a rich mix of acoustic guitar, pedal steel, and a trio of ethereal harmonies. While there are times when the atmosphere permeating All I Intended to Be is a tad too weighty and sanctified, the purity of Harris' approach makes this more a minor quibble than a major problem. (Nonesuch)
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