Friday, February 2, 2018

Tommy Emmanuel at the Town Hall

Born in Muswellbrook, New South Wales, Australia, Tommy Emmanuel received his first guitar at age four and was taught by his mother to accompany her as she played lap steel guitar. When Tommy was six, his father created a family band, the Emmanuel Quartet, sold the home, and took the family on the road. With the parents and two sons living in two station wagons, much of Emmanuel's childhood was spent touring Australia, playing rhythm guitar, and rarely going to school until the authorities intervened. After Tommy's father died in 1966, the Emmanuels settled in Parkes and then Sydney, where Tommy won a string of televised talent contests in his teen years. By the late 1970s, he was playing drums with his brother Phil Emmanuel in the group Goldrush while doing session work on albums and jingles. In the late 1970s, Tommy was the lead guitarist in the Southern Star Band, the backing group for vocalist Doug ParkinsonHe launched a solo career in 1979, but during the early 1980s, he also joined the reformed lineup of 1970s rock group Dragon. His most recent album, Accomplice One, was released on January 19, 2018.

Tommy Emmanuel headlined the Town Hall tonight, and his jaw-dropping virtuoso performance on acoustic guitar would make one wonder why he is not as well known here and he is back home, where he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM). Taking the stage alone with only a stool, a microphone and three acoustic guitars, each with a different tuning, Emmanuel performed a set of instrumentals and songs that featured his ornate finger-picking technique with no foot pedals or other distortion devices. Clear and pure, Emmanuel translated his hybrid finger-picking style to pop, blues, bluegrass, country, classical, jazz, and folk compositions. Like a piano player, he often used all 10 fingers as his left hand flew up and down the fretboard of the guitar necks and his right fingers simultaneously played bass, chords and lead melodies. Emmanuel was a magnetic and animated performer, slapping his guitar as a percussion instrument at times, singing well, and sharing charming anecdotes between songs, but the cascading harmonic progressions he played on the guitar were unmatchable and riveting. Opening act and sometime collaborator Rodney Crowell joined Emmanuel on stage for the set closers.

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