Tommy Emmanuel

From the WV program, September, 2000

"Only," Tommy Emmanuel.
Self produced, 1999.
14 songs, 45:30.

The buzz about Australian fingerpicker Tommy Emmanuel is that he's got a manic stage presence that wins people over. There's a hint of wild man in "Ol' Brother Hubbard," the last track on Emmanuel's 1999 CD "Only." The song is an acoustic blues accented by a little scat and a few of Emmanuel's grunted giggles, as though he couldn't help himself when he was recording.

The rest of the album, however, is stellar and soothing solo guitar, innovative without being jarring. With each original composition, Emmanuel proves again that he is a musician first and a guitar wizard second. "The Robin," for instance, is built on ringing chords left to decay, broken up by bright bursts of notes. It manages to be both eerie and cheerful. "Stay Close to Me," the weeper of the album, is as soulful as it is short. It depends far more on tone and taste than flash. The album's opening, "Those Who Wait," is a thoughtful, shimmering beginning. The third track, "Mombasa," is my favorite. It's rhythmic and poppy. The melody feels familiar even on first listen, but it isn't predictable. If James Taylor wrote for solo guitar, this is a tune he might have recorded.

If you want to hear some serious acoustic shredding, though, "Only" also has something for you. There is a reason Emmanuel has, by several accounts, been the most talked about part of a couple recent Chet Atkins Appreciation Society events. The ragtimey "Biskie" is an homage to Atkins, Travis and others who redefined guitar playing. "Train to Dusseldorf" has the driving rhythm you would expect from a train song, but the musical landscape it passes is vivid and ever demonstrates how many parts Emmanuel can keep going at once, tied together with breathtaking runs. The most danceable song is "Luttrell," which starts out minor and quiet, then becomes a barnburning stomp with a surprisingly funky bassline.

Tommy Emmanuel appends a "C.G.P." to his name on the album credits. It stands for Certified Guitar Player. He is that and so much more. This CD is a fine introduction to his art.

In the Walnut Valley Festival list of artists: