Some guys just have the touch. Acoustic guitar aces Tommy Emmanuel and John Knowles have teamed up on Heart Songs to put fans in a mellow mood on this collection of 14 sentimental fingerstyle instrumentals (including a dozen studio and two live recordings). Both musicians are gifted jazz players, but they don’t stray far from the melodies on such timeless romantic country and pop ballads as Hank Williams’ woeful “Cold, Cold Heart” and the Bee Gees’ touching “How Deep Is Your Love.” Rather, the duo allows the natural resonance of wood and steel, as well as the ringing harmonics, to complement slow tempos and the warm embrace they give to these relaxing tunes.
Indeed, less is best as Emmanuel and Knowles trade delicate lead lines and rhythm duties in sparse, unhurried arrangements that accentuate the sheer beauty of these songs. As masters of their craft, these celebrated players possess a treasure trove of technique, but they never let it get in the way of the melodies. The ’50s chestnut “Walking My Baby Back Home,” a relatively spry track, showcases the pairs’ light touch and nimble fingers. That’s also evident on the Leonard Bernstein show tune “Somewhere,” from West Side Story, and Billy Joel’s calming “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel),” as well as on the folk-pop ballad “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother,” which Emmanuel covered on his 2010 album, Little By Little.
Heart Songs also showcases three originals: Emmanuel’s tender “Eva Waits” and Knowles’ gorgeous “After Paris” and “Turning Home.”
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2019 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.