It's fair to say there's no one who's more adept at interpreting other people's songs than Emmylou Harris. Never mind that she's a superb writer in her own right; Harris' ability to turn in a performance that's both intimate and inspired elevates her to a rarified strata all her own. All the proof needed resides in her latest album, All I Intended to Be, a set of homespun, back-porch ballads that could cause even the most calloused listener to dab away a few tears. Frayed with vulnerability and rendered like tender torch songs, "Broken Man's Lament," "Kern River," and "Shores of White Sand" plow the depths of heartbreak and despair. Keeping to a generally downcast disposition, she teeters on a precipice between faith and futility with "Take That Ride" and strives for affirmation via a sturdy cover of Tracy Chapman's "All That You Have Is Your Soul." The return of producer Brian Ahern, the man who helmed her initial albums, and a host of longtime collaborators — among them, members of her various backing bands and old friends like Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, and the McGarrigle Sisters — mine the familiarity factor to good effect, but the melodies' melancholia can wear after awhile. Still, the emotional investment Harris imbues in each of these songs leaves a consistently indelible impression.
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