In January 2018 Tommy Emmanuel was Pete Feenstra’s special guest in his weekly Feature show first broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio. In this hour special Tommy discusses the new album and his career, with tracks from ‘Accomplice One’.
Mascot Records [Release date 19.01.18]
It’s hard to imagine how Australian Tommy Emmanuel can up his game any more than he already has, but on ‘Accomplice One’ he does precisely that.
He’s one of the great guitarists in the world and he’s already explored stylistic diversity in the company of fellow greats such as Chet Atkins and Martin Taylor. On ‘Accomplice One’, he sets himself new challenges to keep thing interesting. It’s a project that breathes fresh life into the old marketing chestnut of duets.
He pairs himself with an array of diverse players on a wide range of material that brings out the best in both himself and his collaborators.
Emmanuel is a consummate feel player with a warm tone and a dazzling technique who revels on arrangements that always leave enough room for a melody to breath.
He balances precision, restraint and poise with bursts of energy, exuberance and the sheer delight of improvising.
He rarely wastes a note and let’s the melodies soar, as he injects a significant number of covers with an essential vitality. The one defining thing the listener takes way from this album is simply the joy of his playing and the spontaneity that the collaborations offer him.
The imaginative arrangements also help glue together a diverse choice of material, ranging from Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ to Madonna’s ‘Borderline’.
Both songs are given the Emmanuel makeover and shine because they equally showcase the input of his collaborator.
His bluegrass version of ‘Purple Haze’ for example, finds him teaming up with ace Dobro player Jerry Douglas and the duo’s breathless interplay takes the song into a new dimension, before a coda elicits an enthusiastic chuckle from both players.
He also teams up with fiddle player Amanda Shires on a country rendition of Madonna’s ‘Borderline’. It’s as audacious as it is unlikely, but it works beautifully on the back of Shires’s sonorous fiddle line and a tremulous vocal.
The two songs couldn’t be more different, but they rarely sound out of place in the context of an album that is indelibly stamped with both Emmanuel’s personality and his intricate playing skills.
It helps that all the tracks are real time collaborations rather than drop-ins and the organic feel contributes to an edge that brings out the occasional encouraging comment from the players.
Being Nashville based, the sundry contributions refreshingly come from both old school players and newcomers alike. The latter includes J.D. Simo who alongside ace banjo player Charlie Cushman brings real zest to the hot picking ‘Wheelin’ & Dealin’.
Simo also stars on a cover of Otis Redding’s ‘(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay’, which has been presumably chosen as single for its real commercial possibilities.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of this enjoyable album is the way that Tommy Emmanuel takes great delight in supporting the songs and exploring the potential possibilities with his collaborators.
He evokes Nashville’s mainstream country with Ricky Skaggs on the sparkling harmonies of ‘Song & Dance Man’, while the mutual appreciation voiced at the beginning of ‘Saturday Night Shuffle’ (with Jorma Kaukonen and Pat Bergeson) translates into a sparse but persuasive percussive arrangement, as the pristine guitar notes are counterweighted by some earthy harp on a track that is over all too quickly.
There’s also a Hot Club infleunce on ‘C-Jam Blues’, which virtually jumps out of the track with some stellar interplay with David Grisman and Bryan Sutton, as part of a coherently shaped 16 track album that reveals different layers by turns.
For example, there’s a lovely relaxed back porch feel with Mark Knopfler on ‘You Don’t Want To Get You One Of Those’, as Tommy sings the cryptic line: “She’s always been as mean as she appears, ain’t done no rocking rollin’ for years.”
A personal favourite follows, as he teams up with UK acoustic guitarist and fellow tour partner Clive Carroll on ‘Keepin’ It Reel’. a piece that explores time and space and still finds room for a subtle tempo change.
The mid-number Celtic jig is a perfect meeting of a loose, but disciplined piece that embraces moments of inspired improvisation and a beautifully crafted up-tempo finish as the two guitarists mesh seamlessly.
Rodney Crowell brings further contrast with one of the strongest vocals of the album, on the country rock outing ‘Looking Forward To The Past’. And there’s also room for some gypsy jazz on ‘Djangology’, alongside the guitar duo of Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo.
The combination of sonic resonance and technical precision is an excellent example of Tommy’s versatility.
‘Accomplice One’ harnesses a well chosen roster of guests on a musically diverse album. It shines a light on both Emmanuel’s own evocative efforts and the infinite possibilities of the acoustic guitar in his hands. File under inspirational. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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