Accomplice One (CGP/Thirty Tigers) is Tommy Emmanuel’s chance to duet with some of his favorite musicians, showing off in a range of styles from bluegrass (“Watson Blues”) to Celtic (“St. Anne’s Reel”), jazz (“Djangology”), pop (“Borderline”), rock (“Purple Haze”), and soul (“Sittin’ on the Dock of the Bay”). Of course, the playing is jaw-dropping awesome, and the partners he’s picked—including Jerry Douglas, David Grisman, Jorma Kaukonen, Mark Knopfler, Jack Pearson, Jake Shimabukuro, J.D. Simo, Bryan Sutton, and Frank Vignola—push him to new heights.
Where do I start? There’s Emmanuel playing the Delmore Brothers’ “Deep River Blues” in full-on Doc Watson mode, with Jason Isbell sharing vocals. There’s the trio with Grisman and Sutton, who make Duke Ellington’s “C Jam Blues” sound like it was written for guitar and mandolin. There’s Emmanuel trading licks with Kaukonen on “Saturday Night Shuffle,” creating harmonies Merle Travis could have only heard in his dreams.
Emmanuel’s having fun, and these collaborations clearly bring out the best in everyone. Rodney Crowell unpacks a new song, “Looking Forward to the Past,” that’s among the sharpest he’s written; Mark Knopfler digs into his trunk for the sly “You Don’t Want to Get You One of Those,” which he and Emmanuel use as a tribute to Chet Atkins; and the album’s quieter moments, like the reels with Clive Carroll, the Gypsy jazz with Frank Vignola, and the lullaby with Jake Shimakaburo, are equally as good, finding Emmanuel playing at the top of his game.
This article originally appeared in the May 2018 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.