May 1997

Tommy Emmanuel
Midnight Drive
Higher Octave Music

Aimed at making a commercial breakthrough for the oft-honored Australian guitarist Tommy Emmanuel (he's a four-time winner of the Aussie "Best Guitarist" honor, among others), Midnight Drive (Higher Octave; 40:57) does more to "dress up" (and sometimes even mask) Emmanuel's talent than to show it off. Emmanuel has a spindly, quick style on both steel and nylon string acoustic guitar, as well as a great ability to capture the rise and fall of a melody-evidenced on tunes like the modern-Spanish "Villa de Martin" and folk-textured, picked "Drivetime." However, many of the songs here (many co-penned by pop veteran Randy Goodrum) are thick on the glossy synthesizer programming, causing a loss of contact with Emmanuel-who should be the central voice. Even the album-ending "Song for Nature," arguably the guitarist's best technical and melodic showcase piece, is marred by needless extras in the arrangement. When he sings out, as on the romantic melody "The Inner Voice," and the stylish, strutting "Reggie's Groove," the results are impressive. Hopefully in the next effort Emmanuel will dispense with the over-thought arrangements, and stick to what he does best.

Originally published in May 1997
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