There are only four gentlemen on planet Earth good enough to carry the tag of C.G.P.—Certified Guitar Picker, and that's all there'll ever be, as the only guy who could grant the title, Chet Atkins, the original C.G.P. and a giant in the annals of the greatest players, has passed on. One of the three remaining is this astounding guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel, who cut Chet's last recorded LP with him has never had formal training. This is his second DVD. I reviewed the earlier one here and am happy as hell to catch Center Stage.
Emmanuel was destined to be a prodigy, his mother giving him his first guitar when he was just 4, teaching him to accompany while she played lap steel. At the ripe old age of 9, he was already a professional helping a struggling family survive…until the Australian authorities stepped in and forced his parents to send the kids to school. He and his brother later put together their own group, starting what led to solo fame and a number of honors…including just recently being voted Best Acoustic Guitarist in the May 2008 Guitar Player Magazine. Though he rightly enjoys a wide repute for producing, arranging, and group ventures, it's the man's solo work which inevitably draws gasps from all who witness his performances.
The DVD wastes no time getting to it. The Finger Lakes, Center Stage's first cut, is a dazzling example of fingerstyle guitar at its finest. Tommy's a touch older than in the Balarat concert, a bit greyer, but even more astounding than he was back then, only three years ago. Papa George just reinforces that, a cut laying back into the earth and sunset, gently swingin'. Pause for a breath and then it's straight back into a dizzyingly complex Train to Dusseldorf, with all the speed and grace of the locomotion inferred. Thank God they put it on the vid because you'd swear there are three players present otherwise (those buying the 2-CD version are going to scratch their heads over this one), but t'aint so, brother, it's just Tommy Emmanuel and a pair of hands as rarely have ever graced a human body.
I've said it before, and it bears repeating: DiMeola. McLaughlin, and Coryell are going to have to move over and make room for a fellow master. The lead runs in Emmanuel's cover of the chestnut I Go to Rio draw hoots and hollers from the crowd, as do the Ellis / Kessel chords and beyond-the-pale runs of Nine Pound Hammer, where he also pulls up vocals and soundbox percussion, the latter showing why his axes are beat to hell…but sounding like heaven. Old Town returns to a gentler swing, melodious and wistful, balladry with a toe-tapping base, as fascinating for its structure and infectious rhythms as speed demonry. Billy Joel's And So It Goes is even more laid back, a tune filled to capacity with inflection and reminiscence.
I've covered only the first 7 cuts, and there are—egads!—16 more beyond that, including a truly dazzling Beatles Medley. If the end section there doesn't blow your mind, glance around, 'cause you're probably being fitted out for a last suit and tie by that guy from Phantasm, and I'll tell you now that the percussion intro to Mombasa is worthy of a Carnatic master (is there anything this guy can't do?), but the remainder are for you to discover, a feast worthy of commemoration. Get the CD set if you prefer, but watching what goes on here will be one of those rare treats you may not often get between now and the call from Gabriel. Yep, Tommy Emmanuel's the last C.G.P., and that's most likely a very proper thing indeed. It'll take an alien to outdo this cat, but, until that happens, he's all yours in a riveting two-hour DVD…with three extra cuts of him talking about various adventures in the music world, including another take of Mombasa that, unbelievaby, outdoes the one in the show proper.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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