Review Accomplice One Tommy Emmanuel Rock and Blues Muse

By Scott Bampton

Set for release on Friday January 19 on CGB Sounds, Accomplice One is Tommy Emmanuel’s new album of collaborations. Featuring an impressive roster of well-known musicians, Accomplice One is a natural progression for Emmanuel, having last year released his duet album Pickin’ alongside David Grisman. That record clearly whetted the esteemed, Grammy-nominated guitarist, composer and performer’s appetite to work with other artists, as Emmanuel explains, “I wanted to record an album of duets that could showcase my love of many styles, the challenge of rearranging some classic songs, and share the fun of total improvisation with players who do it on a level that we all marvel at.”

And “marvel” is no understatement with the album’s 16 tracks all offering something marvelous in their own right. An eclectic collection of covers and brand new original tracks, the record kicks off with Doc Watson’s “Deep River Blues,” with Emmanuel joined by fellow acoustic maestro, Jason Isbell. It’s a pace-setter for the album, with the two musicians affording each other the breathing space they both deserve. The result is a wonderfully balanced recording that, if not handled with Emmanuel’s and Isbell’s humility, could so easily have turned into a battle for six string supremacy.

Such is Tommy Emmanuel’s mastery of the guitar, he’s able to expertly, and respectfully, collaborate with a diverse array of contemporaries from a wide spectrum of genres. “Looking Forward to the Past” is the album’s most country-heavy number, with Emmanuel and Rodney Crowell teaming up to create an engaging tale of heartbreak. Emmanuel’s shuffling acoustic rhythm creates a solid foundation that perfectly sets up some fruity picking courtesy of both Emmanuel and Cowell.

Amanda Shires adds further country charm, joining Emmanuel for a brilliantly pensive reworking of Madonna’s “Borderline.” The slowed-down, stripped-back reimagining adds a mournful touch courtesy of a moaning string line. Shires’ beautiful vocals then complete the transformation from ‘80s pop anthem to a heartfelt and emotional ballad.

Another standout cover is Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze,” which features the Dobro-playing talents of Jerry Douglas. Somehow, the acoustic version rocks just as hard as the electrified original – it’s a bafflingly brilliant tribute that proves Emmanuel is, in his own unique way, every bit the guitar pioneer Hendrix was.

Dire Straits front man Mark Knopfler’s signature vocals play off against Emmanuel’s own novel timbre on “You Don’t Want to Get You One of Those” in another unique pairing of musical legends. The jovial and relaxed vocal interplay between the two makes for a heartwarming yarn-spinner, with the two greats respecting each other’s space by keeping the guitar playing as laid back as possible.

Emmanuel’s world class talents get the Cuban treatment on “Djangology,” with Frank Vignola and Vinny Raniolo joining the Australian guitar master for a gypsy jazz tribute to Django Reinhardt’s original. And continuing the worldly theme, Emmanuel also teams up with Hawaiian ukulele player Jake Shimabukuro on “Rachel’s Lullaby” – a heartfelt original track penned for Tommy’s daughter.

The record also boasts brilliant contributions from Ricky Skaggs, Jorma Kaukonen, Pat Bergeson, J.D. Simo, Charlie Cushman, David Grisman, Bryan Sutton, Clive Carrol, Jerry Douglas, Jack Pearson, and Suzy Bogguss. And as if showcasing the full array of his musical talents on Accomplice One wasn’t enough, Emmanuel also takes the credit as the album’s producer.

Is there nothing this man can’t do?

For an artist with nothing to prove, Tommy Emmanuel’s Accomplice One proves so much. Primarily, it proves what a unique and valuable talent he is. And with so many great releases behind him, Accomplice One also proves there’s still plenty of uncharted territory Tommy Emmanuel’s wandering fingers are itching to explore.

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