Tommy Emmanuel

Midnight Drive

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Though he has shown a mastery and affinity for both electric and acoustic axes, Tommy Emmanuel's Higher Octave debut, Midnight Drive, finds him focusing almost exclusively on warm yet frequently aggressive acoustic melodies, complemented here and there by the raw, plugged-in energy of Robben Ford and Larry Carlton. The overall mix is the kind that smooth jazz lovers find easy to swallow, but offers more bite and adventure than most like-minded releases in the genre. Smooth jazz radio may find an easy mark with a laid-back take of Sting's "Fields of Gold," but Emmanuel's other tracks dig deeper, showing off a stylistic chameleon drawing from the many phases of his career. His soft pop side comes out on power ballads "No More Goodbyes" and "Stay Close to Me," the latter reminding us why guest saxman Warren Hill's biggest hit to date was called "The Passion Theme." Emmanuel's more aggressive blues-rock side (honed no doubt by a few years in the progressive mid-'80s ensemble Dragon) emerges with Carlton's help on "Can't Get Enough." The striking contrast between the pastoral, folksy roads of "Drivetime" and the disc's best track, "Villa de Martin" best reflects the gamut of Emmanuel's approaches. "Drivetime" is simple and sparse, while "Villa de Martin" is multi-faceted, opening calmly before exploding into a wild flamenco jam, then quickly shifting back to a lower gear. He darts in a lot of directions, and that willingness, while not yet making him any sort of innovator on our shores, sets him apart from those who make their marks just playing the same old lines.

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