As a jazz and blues fanatic, I tend to have a significant case of tunnel vision when it comes to my taste in music. But as a guitarist I’m more open-minded and willing to check out other guitarists, regardless of their genre (punk rock and rap excluded).
And it just so happens that when I was channel surfing the other day, I accidentally landed on an episode of PBS’ “Great Performances,” where for the first time I encountered the 56 year-old Australian acoustic guitarist Tommy Emmanuel. Mr. Emmanuel is a virtuoso of the highest order, having been voted “Best Acoustic Guitarist” in polls by Guitar Player magazine in 2008 and 2010.
Though he mainly plays middle-of-the-road standards and pop tunes, he really knows jazz harmonies, as is abundantly clear on his solo rendition of “Moon River,” hardly my favorite tune in the world, but in Mr. Emmanuel’s hands coming across as very soulful. In his original solo tune “Guitar Boogie,” he demonstrates such astounding chops that you don’t wonder for an instant why he is held in such high regard.
About a week later, as I was hunkered down in my man cave, I heard some really driving, funky blues emanating from the living room. My wife had tuned – again! – to “Great Performances.” this episode featuring a guitarist named Joe Bonamassa. Backed by keyboard, bass, two drummers (not at all gimmicky, but, rather, used to great effect) and a 3-piece horn section, the 37 year-old from New Hartford, NY, was playing a bottleneck blues and effortlessly ripping off absolutely gorgeous blues riffs with perfect intonation and total understanding of the blues.
Mr. Bonamassa is a guitar god in the vein of Eric Clapton, with dazzling technique coupled with terrific taste – rarely does he overplay (except in the case of the unrepresentative clips on YouTube), as demonstrated on “Lonesome Road Blues,” available on iTunes. Plus, he has a terrific voice, clear and unaffected. I get so sick of the Whitney Houston school, in which every note is subjected to endless melismas and appoggiaturas, and Mr. Bonamassa is thankfully content to let a tune and his gorgeous voice speak for themselves.
Both Mr. Emmanuel and Mr. Bonamassa have a number CDs out; plus DVDs of their live performances. I particularly recommend Mr. Bonamassa’s double CD/DVD recorded live at Albert Hall.