By Bobby Reed | Published January 2019
Among Americana musicians today, few names are more revered than that of Chet Atkins (1924–2001). A virtuoso guitarist, esteemed producer and Nashville record executive with a great ear for talent, Atkins bestowed the rare designation CGP (Certified Guitar Player) on a very select group of pickers. Two of them are Tommy Emmanuel and John Knowles, who have teamed up for the acoustic duo album Heart Songs.
Both players owe an artistic debt to Atkins, helping make renditions of popular songs (rendered as instrumental numbers on acoustic guitar) music that not only belongs on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, but also in classical concert halls. Somewhere, Atkins surely must be smiling over the gorgeous arrangements of two country classics on this album: Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart” and Don Gibson’s “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” Whether Emmanuel or Knowles is engaging in intricate fingerpicking, delivering a subtle bass line or offering chiming coloration, each has the ability to highlight the melodic contours of whatever material he interprets. The diverse program here includes studio renditions of “Somewhere” (from West Side Story), the Bee Gees’ “How Deep Is Your Love,” Billy Joel’s “Lullabye (Goodnight, My Angel)” and “I Can’t Make You Love Me” (popularized by Bonnie Raitt) before concluding with a couple of live tracks. This ever-tasteful, incredibly talented duo is certain to perform some of those tunes on a tour that will take them to New York’s City Winery (Jan. 15–16), The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia (Jan. 22–23), the Dakota in Minneapolis (Jan. 25–26) and Hammerschmidt Memorial Chapel in Elmhurst, Illinois (Jan. 28), as well as other cities.