I'm not now but, once, I used to be an avid concert hound. My buddies and I practically lived at the Whiskey A Go Go in the 70s - where I witnessed Jeff Baxter work his magic with the early Steely Dan - simultaneously haunting many of the much larger venues. I watched Hendrix burn the house down in L.A., saw DiMeola and Pastorius on the same bill in Tampa, sat mesmerized as Robert Fripp and King Crimson literally created sonic planets on-stage in Santa Monica, and, in a high school auditorium in Downey, gazed in amazement as Carnatic master Ustad Srinivas manipulated an upside-down piccolo guitar as I've never seen any instrument played. Thus, with such experiences well in tow, it's been pretty hard, as the new millennium has begun to wear on, to shock me when it comes to guitar playing, but that's exactly what Tommy Emmanuel has done.
Never having heard of this guy, I wasn't sure what to think beforehand but certainly never expected this stratospheric level of dexterity and inventiveness. Emmanuel looks like an ex-football player - kinda like a young George Gobel in fact, although a couple of friends remarked upon the cover photos showing him to be nearly akin to Pink Floyd's David Gilmour - but oh my God what this cat can do with six strings and ten fingers!! Ballarat is divided roughly into three sections, the first being a set of smokin' barnburners, the second a series of duets with his fiancee (songstress Elizabeth Watkins - and, boys, she's a looker!), and the third a collection of beautifully presented country and country-oriented gems, played for expressive beauty and a good deal less pyrotechnics. The shitkicker isn't a rocker's cuppa, but, when this gent plays, minds quickly change...especially when he starts throwing jazz and improv in, not to mention slices of bluegrassy influences
Emmanuel stands tall with Larry Coryell, John McLaughlin, Roy Clark (when Clark shuts his yap and plays), Steve Howe, Al DiMeola, Martin Taylor, and any mind-bending fretstretcher you'd care to name. His execution and precision are inhuman, not to mention the insertion of all manner of flash and fill, even to the extent of thrumming his axe's soundbox as a percussive adjunct (which it definitely can be, as Michael Hedges clearly illustrated). Placing this speed demon's lightning capabilities up front in the cut selections was a smart move by the label, as no one watching the spectacle can fail to be astonished and, thus, compelled to view the entire show, which is a smorgasbord of in-genre variegated riches. Emmanuel's another Chet Atkins acolyte, as many of the latter part of the last century's best pickers have been, and unfailingly recognizes the fact. Atkins, in turn, is one of Emmanuel's biggest fans and re-dubbed his own title (CGP - certified guitar player) on the younger man. Eric Clapton has played with this nimble wonder, as have Joe Walsh and Les Paul. 'Ere long, I expect that list will grow prodigiously.
Bravura performances like this are all very well on CD or LP - as witness the much earlier famed McLaughlin / DiMeola / De Lucia efforts - but the visuals in witnessing an artist who's exceeded all boundaries to keep the furthest reaches of the possibilities of the art alive is a wholly different beast. The gig's audience, while highly appreciative, is unusually sedate; I would've been turning somersaults in my seat. Emmanuel is also caught in a pre-concert interview, giving insights to his method and means, inserted in various segues as well as in a triad of bonuses after the Ballarat segment's finished. Hell if I know why he hasn't been asked to guest on the innumerable tribute CDs and DVDs issuing over the last decade, but he hasn't... maybe, as Coryell did in the Tal Farlow video, just maybe a few of the most estimable six-string lions are a trifle nervous he'll upstage them.
It's a valid fear: Tommy Emmanuel is inarguably one of the best guitar stylists on planet Earth. Before he's done, he'll have eaten a lot of other players' lunches, and I'm betting, entranced by his achievements, they themselves will be serving the wine as he does so.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Website design by David N. Pyles