Artist: Tommy Emmanuel
Album: Accomplice Two
Tommy Emmanuel’s music is a flawless marriage of pure heart and chops. The seemingly bottomless well of inspiration is something to behold. In many ways his guitar talent is reminiscent of Eddie Van Halen or Stevie Ray Vaughan. I don’t mean stylistically similar, but erupting from the same source with what seems to be the whole world in their fingertips. It comes from a place where music takes the giant and unmistakable leap from the exceptional to genius. His latest set "Accomplice Two" was released on April 28th by CGP Sounds. The record has an "A List" lineup of guests including Billy Strings, Michael McDonald, Sam Bush, Molly Tuttle, Little Feat, Jamey Johnson, Raul Malo and many others!
What is most memorable about Tommy's playing from my perspective is the depth of the phrasing. He has chops to spare, but also has the wisdom to put the brakes on them to best serve the song. In my experience the "real thing" is rarely wrapped in shiny paper. The depth of this music speaks for itself without the garnish.
The opening track, "Doc's Guitar Black Mountain Rag" fires on all cylinders. It is a classic country Rag featuring Billy Strings and Tommy conversing through the guitars in what sounds like a lighthearted conversation between two masters of their craft. The two distinct styles mold into one eloquent back porch voice of musical wisdom. "Daddy Frank" featuring Jamey Johnson is a standout track. There is a place on the southern coastline that sits right on the line of Alabama and Florida called The Florabama that this song reminds me of. A true great American honky tonk where you can still hear traditional country music, drink warm beer from a dirty glass and eat crawfish served in a cardboard box in a dingy roadhouse. That is exactly what this song sounds like... barefoot, whiskey drinking, crawfish eating, pool shooting, classic country. There are two interesting stylistic turns in the production. "Someone Like You" features Michael McDonald delivering a perfect heartfelt vocaltake. It's an Adult Contemporary track that Tommy plays impeccably executed guitar fills that display his restraint and taste, serving the song while still having his voice clearly heard. The other is "Far Away Places" featuring Raul Malo. This track feels like it would've been right at home in an early 70's AM Easy Listening playlist. It reminds me a bit of Don McLean's "Vincent". Tommy's guitar line is a pillar of taste and maturity.
Another standout is "Mombasa" featuring Yasmin Williams. This track is more of what we have come to expect of Tommy's musical output. It is a beautiful guitar instrumental ballad that is composed and played with absolute precision. The tone they manage to extract from six strings and a piece of wood is astonishing. I once heard a story of a guitar player asking Chet Atkins about his gear because he just couldn't believe the sound he was getting from it. Chet then politely put his guitar on the stand and asked "How does it sound now?" The moral of the story being the tone is always in the hands, and the ones that played this song are clearly the hands of the elite. "Cajun Girl" featuring Little Feat and Sam Bush is a must hear. This Little Feat classic cooks and swings, and crescendos into a slide guitar solo that is the reason why electric guitars and bottleneck slides were created. My only input on this song is that I wish I could hear what was happening after the song had faded. I envision the band in the room with smiles as the slide guitar takes everybody on a journey into the depths of the microtone stratosphere, ending with laughter and a conversation confirming that was the take. Tommy Emmanuel is an undeniable generational talent. It is as much about what he doesn't play as it is what he does. He surrounds himself with the best there is and allows them to shine. The team that is assembled on this production is like the New York Yankees of the 50's. When this much talent is put into one room you are bound to win a bunch of games. All 16 tracks are a necessary chapter in the bigger story that makes up this fantastic recording. If you love acoustic American Roots music, this album is a must hear.