When you listen to a truly great guitarist, the guitar isn’t the only thing you hear. The furious click of fingernails plucking the strings with one hand, the squeaky slide of fingertips flying up and down the strings with the other—this is how you know someone like Tommy Emmanuel is on stage.
The sort of artist you have to see to truly experience, Emmanuel will take the El Rey stage Thursday to share his new album, It’s Never Too Late, which we’re proud to premiere exclusively ahead of its Friday release. It’s Never Too Late is Emmanuel’s first completely solo studio offering in 15 years, but the Australian virtuoso’s aptitude for Travis picking—that acoustic fingerpicking style that sounds like he’s three guitarists at once—will make you forget he’s a one-man band.
Emmanuel had already toured Australia up and down by age 10, culminating in a performance during the Closing Ceremony of the Sydney Olympic Games. He’s played with Eric Clapton, Tina Turner, Air Supply, Men at Work, Les Paul, Albert Lee, and Stevie Wonder, and he was awarded the honor of Certified Guitar Player by his idol and mentor, Chet Atkins—a title held only by four other guitarists in the world.
Emmanuel is well-known in music’s more technical communities—Guitar Player magazine has honored him many a time—because the intricacy of his style is often underestimated by average listeners until they can see it up close, and understandably so. More people may flaunt their air guitar skills during a Slash solo than one of Emmanuel’s, but he’s a guitar hero just the same. It doesn’t take a musical mind to appreciate Emmanuel’s music, though. He doesn’t sing during his songs, but his bright melodies sing for him, lingering in your head the way a vocal melody would and undulating with the same emotions. On this new record, he spans a breadth of sentiments and styles. He showcases his precision on “Hello’s and Goodbyes,” and he hops from genre to genre on “One Mint Julep” (blues), “The Duke” (folk), and “El Vaquero” (Latin).
At 60, Emmanuel still averages 300 shows per year (“I’m trying to get good at it,” he told us in one of many modest moments the last time we spoke). He tackles the challenge head on in It’s Never Too Late, embracing possibility and conveying it deftly without saying a single word. Take a listen below.