Song of the Week: Nine Pound Hammer, Tommy Emmanuel

This post originally appeared on Turntablr, the conceptual inspiration for Vintage Voltage

Click here to listen to “Nine Pound Hammer,” by Tommy Emmanuel

I don’t usually go out for musical gimmicks. I like my musicians to play their music, and that’s about it. You don’t need to put a takeout container on your head, brag about how many caps you’ve popped in various people, or prostitute your technical talent so people will pay attention to you (i.e. playing fast just because you can).

Tommy Emmanuel does this (not the cap-popping or bucket-wearing), so I really shouldn’t be praising him in light of my previous statement. He’s an immensely gifted technical player, but he uses his talent as more of a curiosity than anything else. Maybe I’m just not hip to what he’s playing, but most of his songs seem overly technical to the detriment of emotional content, with the notable exception of “Nine Pound Hammer,” a Merle Travis cover.

Emmanuel’s technical mastery is evident here: he keeps his picking perfectly staccato and fluid, which lends a sophisticated polish to Travis’ down-home country lyrics. His solo break at 2:00-2:43 almost veers into virtuosic egotism, but he manages to reel things in just in time.

At 3:09 the tune takes a decided turn for what I would typically describe as “gimmicky,” but in this context it comes off as purely innovative. After exploring the percussive elements of his guitar, Emmanuel resolves into an interesting technique: brushing the body of the guitar with one hand while fingering notes on the neck with his other (check out the video below). It’s a distinctive sound that almost succeeds in convincing you that there’s a rhythm section behind him.

When Emmanuel says “I love this tune,” I can’t help but believe him—and he doesn’t need to play real fast to convince me.

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