Anyone who had seen Emmanuel in concert or heard about his prodigious technique, then rushed out to buy his 2001 Favored Nations effort, Only, may have been a bit puzzled. Not that the playing wasn’t of the highest order; it was. But onstage, this amalgam of Chet and Merle, Jerry Reed, Michael Hedges and Jimi Hendrix, with a touch of Victor Borge, was a ball of energy; Only was rather subdued, much of it sitting comfortably in the “new age” category.
The solo acoustic Endless Road is an accurate representation of the Tommy Emmanuel concertgoers expect. He turns on the heat this time; even the ballads have more intensity, and the burners are almost as jaw-dropping as the live experience.
How Emmanuel does what he does is almost inexplicable – although playing for approximately 45 of his 50 years is a hint. Jazz great Martin Taylor is a few years younger, but got his start at approximately the same age, and while their styles differ, they both play on a similar, unimaginable level. And, like Taylor, Emmanuel’s technical ability is merely a means to an end; his musicality is even more impressive.
The Australian describes himself as a “melodic player,” which indeed he is – with most of the CD’s 19 tracks being instantly memorable originals. But he’s also a rhythmic player, with a power and sense of time that may actually take the Chet/Merle fingerpicking style a step further. His “(The Man With The) Green Thumb,” an ode to Chet and all the players he fostered, is a perfect example, as is “Chet’s Ramble” which Tommy recently finished from a tape of an incomplete tune Mr. Guitar sent him when they were recording The Day Fingerpickers Took Over The World.
But lest you think Emmanuel is merely a Chet devotee or a country player, that’s only a slice of what this CD serves up. And actually the more energetic selections, like the title track and “Tall Fiddler,” make the quieter moments, like Tommy’s beautiful renditions of “Over The Rainbow” and “Mona Lisa,” stand out even more. A true master.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s June ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.