On her second Nonesuch disc, Emmylou Harris assembles an extraordinary cast of veteran musicians and fellow singers, all of them longtime friends, for a set that indeed showcases this Nashville icon, and 2008 CMA Hall of Fame inductee, as all she has intended to be - a singularly expressive vocalist, a brilliant interpreter of other people's songs, a graceful and confident songwriter. In particular, the album displays Harris's ability to bring new life to songs that may have been overlooked, forgotten or lost along the way. Some of the most affecting material here may be the least well-known - though not for long: John Wesley Routh's celtic/country "Shores Of White Sands" and trucker-poet Mark Germino's heartrending story-song, "Broken Man's Lament." Harris has chosen these songs with conceptual care. Like much of the gently uplifting All I Intended To Be, the stories may be bittersweet, the characters may be downtrodden, but somehow a sense of redemption always vanquishes regret. The shared history of all the artists involved deepens the feeling of hard-won wisdom that informs All I Intended To Be. Producer Brian Ahern was behind the boards for such early Harris classics as Elite Hotel, Pieces of the Sky and Blue Kentucky Girl.
The players and guest stars are not only a veritable who's-who from the worlds of country, bluegrass and folk, but they have each intersected with Harris throughout her four-decade career as a recording artist. They include Dolly Parton, singers Pam Rose and Maryann Kennedy, dobro player (and longtime Seldom Scene member) Mike Auldredge, keyboardists Glenn D. Hardin (of Harris's Hot Band and Elvis Presley's legendary TCB combo) and Bill Payne (of Little Feat). Two songs - the June Carter tribute, "How She Could Sing The Wildwood Flower" and the breathtakingly beautiful "Sailing Round the Room" - were co-written by and performed with Kate and Anna McGarrigle. Singer-songwriter Karen Brooks, whose own eighties-era version of "Shores of White Sands" was the inspiration and thematic jumping-off point for this entire album, contributes backing vocals throughout; Randy Sharp, Brooks' singing partner, did the vocal arranging. (Harris won a 2005 Best Country Vocal Performance Grammy for her rendition of Sharp's "The Connection.") Harris's own songs, like the heartache ballad "Gold" and the elegiac "Not Enough," blend seamlessly with work by Patty Griffin ("Moon Song"), Merle Haggard ("Kern River") and Billy Joe Shaver ("Old Five and Dimers," from which the album title is taken). Harris revives what is arguably Tracy Chapman's most eloquent song, "Fast Car" notwithstanding - "All That You Have Is Your Soul," a cautionary tale with a simple but profound prayer of a chorus. Displaying the maturity, elegance and ease that distinguished All The Road Running, her best-selling 2006 collaboration with Mark Knopfler. Harris has created a riveting emotional and spiritual journey. All That I Intended To Be is everything a listener and fan could hope for.