How do you classify the music of cross-over innovators like Bela Fleck? Can genius be pigeonholed? I don't think so. Tony Furtado's music, all thirteen albums, are in the same vein. All defy cookie-cutter musical categories.
Somewhere between alternative bluegrass and alternative country - with a few jazz, Celtic and Latin influences for good measure - Furtado is often compared to Bela Fleck. Like Fleck, he started out as a banjo sensation - twice winning the national banjo competition. But unlike Fleck, Furtado extended his instrumental repertoire to include almost everything with wires and wood. His slide guitar playing is exceptional.
Where Bela pushes limits, builds mathematical constructs with his music, and has composed an entire song that is a palindrome, Furtado is driven to extract every last ounce of emotion from every note he plays. A natural storyteller and songwriter, his melodies are sweet, fluid and often haunting. That's when he's not thrashing his slide to evoke some raw country blues with Kelly Joe Phelps on vocals. I love both Fleck and Furtado, but I tend to react to Bela's work with my brain and my feet; and to Tony's music with my heart, soul and body chemistry.
I'm rarely happier than when I'm listening to Furtado's American Gypsy (2002), Tony Furtado Band (2000) or Roll My Blues Away (1997) discs. His music reaches down and turns on a fire hydrant of emotions. It has a welcome, masculine vibe that is strong, confident and unrepentant - sure to appeal to alternative music-loving males as well as their female counterparts. My partner's enthusiasm testifies to that.
Some of Furtado's sweetest slide guitar tunes include: "Can You Hear the Rain," "Promise of a Better Day," Song for Early," and "Crow Country." These songs are the musical equivalent of soulful cowboy poetry, featuring the artist's strong, instrumental voice. And Tony has mastered the art of speaking to his audiences with only his instruments. They weep, cajole and moan. There is authentic passion in all of his music. It's all real, nothing sounds contrived or formulaic. Honest music.
Songs like "Willow Tree," "False Hearted Lover," and Bill Munroe's "Molly and Tenbrooks" showcase Furtado's country blues licks and the sultry moan of Kelly Joe Phelps' unique and pleasing voice.
In January, Tony Furtado released his 13th album; appropriately dubbed 13. It has 13 tracks. Furtado is 39 years old, three times thirteen. The work marks a departure from previous compilations in that it features a bigger cast of supporting musicians, and a nod to alternative, southern-style rock. So this album speaks to the "feet" thing. It is definitely "danceable." In addition to ten original compositions, he performs three covers on this disc. Furtado's covers always bring something new and unexpected to the work of other songwriters. On 13, he offers versions of The Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," Credence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Sun," and Elton John's "Take Me to the Pilot." The artist also showcases more of his own vocals on the new disc. He's got a nice tenor, and is maturing as a songwriter.
If you count yourself a fan of alternative bluegrass or country; and you are intrigued by a gifted artist and storyteller, dial-up Furtado's web site and check out his tunes and discography. He's back on a min-tour after a year's hiatus. I'll be there when he appears a the Mobius in Ashland, Oregon in April. Wouldn't miss it.