Historically, there have been a number of interesting attempts to create a "third stream" of sorts merging Country/Western/Bluegrass and Jazz: from the origins of "Western Swing" to the "Hillbilly Jazz" of Vassar Clements, David Grisman’s "Dawg" music or the freely improvised pastiches of Eugene Chadbourne and John Zorn (more recently, Bill Frisell has also made a few forays into this territory.) The latest offering from Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel doesn’t quite fit into any of these categories in fact, to be fair to fans, I should say at the outset that I would not really classify Emmanuel as a Jazz player. Despite the fact that he apparently employs a piano-like technique similar to that of Stanley Jordan, Emmanuel’s oeuvre has more in common with Merle Travis and Chet Atkins (with whom he recorded a duo album that proved to be Atkins’s last) than with Monk or Miles (aficionados beware the "Footprints" featured here is an Emmanuel original and not the well-known Wayne Shorter tune bearing the same title.)
The majority of the cuts found here are Emmanuel compositions that feature solo acoustic fingerpicking pretty enough but, all in all, less than remarkable. The one outstanding exception is the pairing of the original "Gameshow Rag" with Merle Travis’s "Cannonball Rag" to create a barnburner of a track that aptly displays the limits of Emmanuel’s impressive technique. Less notable are the flamenco-esque opener "Cantina Senese" and a vocal cover titled "Walls" that, despite its banal lyrics, serves as a good vehicle for the pairing of Emmanuel’s country-tinged voice with the honeyed twang of singer Elizabeth Watkins. Finally, for Billy Joel fans, there is a rather bland instrumental rendition of "And So It Goes," that failed to send me searching for the original.
Over the last two decades, Emmanuel has managed to produce a solo recording every other year or so. Jazz fans will definitely want to avoid this latest. Unfortunately, those interested in serious attempts to merge Jazz with Country and/or Western will also want to pass. Fans of acoustic fingerpicking will no doubt be intrigued, although I fear that even they may find the majority of these tracks lacking the intensity or the vitality to sustain interest beyond an initial listen.