Review: Tommy Emmanuel – “Accomplice One” (2018)


Australian guitar legend returns with more stars than Pulp Fiction. 

Tommy Emmanuel is an Australian guitarist, songwriter and singer, best known for his complex fingerstyle technique, energetic performances and the use of percussive effects on the guitar. Although originally a session player in many bands, he has carved out his own style as a solo artist in recent years, releasing award-winning albums and singles.

“Accomplice One”, which is produced by Tommy, is a 16-track collaboration album, with mix of new takes on indelible classics and brand-new originals from Tommy and his collaborators.

“Deep River Blues” featuring Jason Isbell kicks off this release and what a cracker of a track it is. The former member of Drive By Truckers voice is a real foil to Tommy`s and it`s a real laid-back love in with both artists almost egging each other on. I could have sworn that the fellas were in the room with me, such was the relaxed performance of this offering. The wonderful American country and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs is next to contribute with “Song And Dance Man.” He lends his mandolin and unmistakable voice to the song, which is a chronicle of a life lived for the next show. Simple but so effective. Jorma Kaukonen renowned from bands such as Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, joins Tommy with American guitarist, harmonica player and Chet Atkins session musician Pat Bergeson for the instrumental “Saturday Night Shuffle” this is what it says on the tin, a relaxed chilled out jam session. The wise cracks and laughter throughout the piece highlight the respect these boys have for each other. “Wheelin’ & Dealin’” has rock musician J.D. Simo and Nashville musician banjo player Charlie Cushman highlighting their talents for this real up-tempo outing. Breath-taking musicianship. David Grisman and Bryan Sutton both bluegrass musicians join the artist for an intricate piece called “C-Jam Blues.” It`s crazy but you can almost hear these musicians waiting their turn and feeding off each other. A song that will be familiar to everybody, co-written and made famous by the late Otis Reading, is up next with “(Sittin’ On) The Dock Of The Bay.” J.D. Simo joins Tommy again and they manage to breathe life into a song that has been covered numerously. Honest.

The transformed Madonna classic ‘Borderline’ is given an airing and my god what a superb version this is. Emmanuel’s subtlety and tastefulness blends with Amanda Shires’ gorgeous vocal and fiddle playing, which turns this hit song to a beautiful stripped version. Absolutely enchanting, It`s a version that you`ll never want to end. “You Don’t Want to Get You One of Those” showcases a sly vocal and acoustic duet with Dire Straits’ legend Mark Knopfler. An unassuming and unpretentious outing for two world class musicians. Incredible. British acoustic guitar player Clive Carroll accompanies the artist on “Keepin’ It Reel” and blow me, what a track. I must shamefully admit, I’d never heard of this guy but my god what a guitarist. A wonderful self-effacing tune, almost Celtic at times, make sure you check Mr Carroll out.

I must admit I love country singer songwriter and Emmylou Harris sideman Rodney Crowell. I have been lucky enough to catch him live and this track with the maestro “Looking Forward To The Past” will only enhance his reputation. There`s just something about his voice and delivery. Maybe Tommy is the catalyst that brings the best out of him. It`s probably easier to say who hasn`t covered Hendrix`s “Purple Haze” But with Dobro master Jerry Douglas, ever present with Alison Krauss and Union Station, and numerous others flexing his fingers and pushing Emmanuel we do get quite a different rendition of this classic, with all sorts of slides and bends along the way. “Rachel’s Lullaby” reunites Tommy with Hawaiian ukulele master Jake Shimabukuro. The song, written for Tommy’s youngest daughter, shows him continuing to find inspiration from an evergreen source–his love of his family. “When Tommy sent me the MP3 of ‘Rachel’s Lullaby,’ I immediately fell in love with the melody,” says Shimabukuro. “Tommy always writes such beautiful lines that evoke so much emotion. He’s brilliant on so many levels. I was so thrilled to record that with him.” A sweet song with said daughter speaking just as the song opens. A slight change of pace with a jazzier offering, which is no surprise as the man is joined on “Djangology” by jazz guitarist Frank Vignola and guitarist Vinny Raniolo. A nice change of direction and style. Bluegrass musicians David Grisman and Bryan Sutton team up again with Tommy to share the song “Watson Blues.” On the penultimate song “Tittle Tattle” Jack Pearson, lead and slide guitarist and one-time member of the Allman Brothers band lends a hand, or should that be his fingers. A simple song but with some increasable guitar picking, listen and weep. The album closes out with a duet with American country music singer and songwriter Suzy Bogguss on “The Duke’s Message” a poignant song to finish on and this wonderful artist`s voice brings an unerring quality to this number.

`Accomplice One` is proof, if ever it was needed of Mr Emmanuel`s musical diversity. This album ranges from country-blues, to rock, to jazz with some emotive and heart-breaking songs along the way. There are new takes on classics and brand-new originals from Tommy and his collaborators. A truly wonderful opus and if I’ve read it right and this is Accomplice One, I can`t wait for Two and upwards.


Rating 9 /10

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