Give a listen to “Old Photographs,” the closing track on Tommy Emmanuel’s It’s Never Too Late, and you’ll hear the distinctive squeak of finger noise as he runs his hands across the frets of his Maton Signature TE guitar. It’s an imperfection in the performance that players typically try to eliminate in practice, and in the hands of a less-secure musician, that sound could easily be edited from the recording with Pro Tools recording technology.
But in their own way, those imperfections are perfect. For all of the masterful technique and flashy ability that’s brought Emmanuel recognition among the world’s greatest guitarists, that finger noise lets the audience know he is one of them. That click conveys warmth and humanity. And it demonstrates an honesty in the sound. It’s that integrity that makes It’s Never Too Late a guitar album that’s believable to both studied guitarists and everyday music fans.
“It’s all about the feeling of the music,” Emmanuel says. “And it has to make me feel something. I’m still playing for myself, you know, because I figure if I please me, then I’m pretty sure I’m gonna please you. And that’s not an arrogant statement, it’s just quality control.”
Quality is laced throughout It’s Never Too Late, the first regular studio album featuring Emmanuel completely solo without guests since 2000. A friend and follower of the late Chet Atkins – who christened Emmanuel a Certified Guitar Player, making him one of only five musicians to receive the C.G.P. distinction from the master – Emmanuel easily skates between musical styles, playing with blues in “One Mint Julep,” infusing Spanish tradition in “El Vaquero” and exploring folk in “The Duke.”