REVIEW: Tommy Emmanuel – Center Stage CD/DVD

This DVD and CD, recorded at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in California, finds Tommy in solo acoustic mode (aside from a few songs which include guest Bob Littell on harmonica), and it’s interesting to observe how the same material can seem quite different depending on whether you’re listening to the CD or watching the DVD.

On CD, Tommy conjures up a virtual orchestra with six strings and a bunch of fingers, creating the ultimate one-man band on songs like ‘Papa George,’ ‘I Go To Rio’(yes, that ‘I Go To Rio’), his famous Beatles medley (when I first heard this it just included ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘Day Tripper’ – now it also includes ‘Here Comes The Sun’ and ‘When I’m 64’). There’s an almost easy-listening quality apparent in the CD version of Center Stage, where Tommy’s ability to play bass, chords and melody at the same time all mesh into a soothing, listenable whole.

Then there’s his concert centrepiece, ‘Initiation,’ in which he uses a digital delay to invoke all sorts of ancient spirits, in stereo ping-ponging brilliance, while whomping the hell out of his bruised and battered (but still very much intact) Maton. It’s always a highlight of his live shows, and every performance is different so it’s always nice to have another new version on record.

On DVD, the very same material that felt relaxed and contemplative suddenly becomes exhilarating and exciting. Hearing Tommy play is a thing of beauty: watching him play is a thing of wonder. His bag of tricks include scratching out a rhythm on the guitar body while hammering a bass line with his left hand; fretting wide chord shapes built solely out of harmonics; and executing speedy, confident runs which never get out of control no matter how fast he’s playing, or how far he travels along the neck.

The CD and DVD are available separately but because there is such a difference between seeing Tommy’s performance and hearing it, each is a valuable addition to his catalog.

You can win a Tommy Emmanuel pack over at Guitar Noize which includes the Center Stage and Live At Her Majesty’s Theatre DVDs, and the Center Stage, The Mystery and Endless Road CDs.