Trying to be non-political in this post. (Breathe, xPraetorius, breathe!)
Of course I start here: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (by Tommy Emmanuel).
How couldn’t I?!? Absolutely had to. Not an existential imperative, but certainly a life-enhancing requirement. Any guitarist (like me) will recognize this.
I dare you to find a more compelling musical performance in the history of the world…anywhere. Serious challenge! Surely there has not existed a more talented instrumentalist than Tommy Emmanuel.(1)
Went from there to: this. (Tommy Emmanuel – Amazing Grace, Seoul 2009).
Quick Tommy quote: “When I play, people get happy.”
In this version of “Amazing Grace,” Tommy mixes in jazz, Cajun, Blues and boogie-woogie.
I know, I know… why? Because it’s Tommy, and because he can. And because it will almost certainly sound great!
It does. It’s astonishingly beautiful. Do yourself a favor — uplift yourself.
I had to stop by here — through a kind of convoluted path(2) — because I’m a schmaltzy, Jesus-loving, cornball Christian. The lyrics are less than stellar, but they express my beliefs, so I don’t mind. I don’t need Shakespeare to express what I’m feeling(2a); this guy will do. And I love the song as it is, so it’s easy to return here often. I like a lot of the ornamentation they do throughout the song. As with most great stuff, it’s best to listen to this up loud(3). The harmonies are really nice in this song.
Then, I had to go here. The song is called, “Nella Fantasia” and is one of the most hauntingly beautiful melodies I’ve ever heard. It’s by Ennio Morricone, and is sometimes known as “Gabriel’s Oboe.” It’s the signature song, if not the theme, of the hyper-silly movie, “The Mission.”
If you don’t fall head-over-heels for this song, check yourself for humanness. Here are some more nice renditions.
From gorgeous, haunting melody to gorgeous, haunting melody. Here are Tommy and Phil Emmanuel — the Emmanuel Bothers — playing “Ashokan Farewell.” It starts about 40 seconds into the video, so patience is a virtue. Phil does a great job filling in the various harmonies that really need to be there. From 3:00 or so, for the next minute, it’s nothing short of musical exquisiteness.
That goes right into “Going Home,” another delightful musical performance by the great Tommy Emmanuel and his great brother, Phil.
Again, a beautiful, lyrical melody that the brothers perform exquisitely.
Funny thing: Tommy is one of the greatest lead guitarists the world has ever produced, but whenever he plays with his brother, Tommy allows Phil to do the vast majority of the lead work. Phil is a great lead guitarist, but it’s kind of strange that it always seems to work out this way.
Funny thing about this particular recording… about two-thirds of the way through it, Tommy breaks a string, so Phil has to go it alone while Tommy picks up a spare guitar and makes sure that it’s in tune in order to re-join. Phil manages to pull it off really well.
Staying with the Emmanuels for a bit, I went here. (Tommy and Phil Emmanuel – Irish and Scottish Medley) Acoustic, celtic guitar fireworks! If you like or play the guitar, you will love this recording! It’s more than four minutes of sheer guitar heaven with two of the greatest guitarists the world has ever produced. And they’re brothers!
Then I had to go here. Because I’ve played with some of these guys. Most notably the great Jerry Goodman. No, I’m not in this recording, but I’m in some recordings on YouTube with some of these guys. There’s some good stuff in here. And John McLaughlin is a very good guitarist!
Then, back to the Emmanuels. I almost never use the word “awesome.” It works in this case though. If you’re a guitarist as I am, you can listen to this a hundred times, and your jaw is still agape!
A quick visit back to the gorgeous Nella Fantasia. Why? It’s never wrong to return to this gorgeous song! I love the melody, but I don’t so much like this song sung operatically. Here’s the voice to sing this beautiful song properly! Clear, childlike — she keeps vibrato to a perfect minimum — yet with a hint of the young woman. Just a bit of the breathiness that gives the perfect contemplative sound to this recording that is way above and beyond delightful. One easily envisions hearing this soft, sweet voice as the young maiden strolls through a field singing to the trees and the wind.
And now to a song best sung operatically: Ave Maria. I dare you to go through the whole song without tears in your eyes. At 1:36 and 2:52 into the recording, if you don’t have chills up and down your spine, check yourself for humanness. You might be a mineral and not yet aware of it.
I’ve long been a fan of Celtic musical fare. Here’s “Will Ye Go Lassie Go?” (aka “Wild Mountain Thyme“) by the High Kings. One of the very best renditions of this gorgeous, contemplative tune. Why? Great voices, great harmonies. It’s a perfect sing-along opportunity for the audience. The absolute right mood. (h/t to the wonderful ColorStorm here.) I love this song! I do it pretty well also.
Time for quite a change of pace: A Gypsy Jazz version of Limehouse Blues. You start off thinking that the incomparable Jimmy Rosenberg and the equally incomparable Frank Vignola are simply going to follow all the blues rules, only using gypsy jazz style guitars. That strikes me as not being all that bad, but not all that great either. They then prove you delightfully wrong. Off they go. The resulting brief, but memorable jam session is worth the listen … over and over and over again. Joe Ascione, playing the manila folder and phone books (no kidding!) adds to what ends up being both great, good fun, and brilliant music! And again, play it up loud!
Speaking of breaking the rules. I often return to this video. It’s called “Autumn Blues,” and if you’re looking for traditional blues, this video’s not that at all. It is a compelling, complex combination of rhythms, melodies and some amazingly smooth guitar playing. Truth to tell, it does have a “blue” feeling — as in “melancholy, a bit sad, contemplative.”
It’s done by Alan Miner, the guy I’ve labeled “the greatest guitarist no one’s ever heard of.” Why? Because he does outstanding videos like the above-linked one. They nearly always have absolutely outstanding guitar work, some of the best around, with dazzling runs, fast scales, and complex melodic interplay. And they get something like 300 or 400 views! What the heck?!? Near as I can tell, it’s just him, some audio editing equipment and several guitars, alone in his living room. And it’s great stuff!
I guess that’s enough for now. Enjoy!
(1) That doesn’t mean that there aren’t musicians as talented as Tommy… I’ve found bunches — however, I’ve never found better. Important point!
(2) The original methodology of this post was to be that I’d go to a favorite song, then click on links that appear on the right side of the YouTube screen. When I figured that this post would take a greater time, I figured I’d just take you through my usual process,which is much more haphazard.
(2a) Though Shakespeare was fine at expressing, well, just about anything he ever felt like expressing.
(3) Interesting guitar note: at about 1:50 into the song, you’ll see a guy with a guitar that looks a lot like a Fender MusicMaster — my very first guitar. It was almost funny, me playing that guitar… I was 6’4″ and quite muscular when I was playing it. It’s a 3/4th size guitar. It looked like an electric mandolin or a ukelele in my hands.