self-titled – Tony Furtado Band
Not much beats a good surprise. Having only seen Tony Furtado's name behind
the "ft." on live shows, I took him for a banjo player. He is, of course,
but this wide ranging disc reveals an impressive and completely unexpected
depth of talent. Furtado takes risks, and some of them don't pan out.
Those that do burst with an acoustic energy and honesty that grips, grabs,
and moves you. More than a dozen different musicians sit in on formats
ranging from the duo to the octet plus one. On twelve tracks, no two
line-ups are the same.
"Cypress Grove" finds Furtado on the acoustic slide and the slide banjo,
with the guitar in the forefront. Scott Amendola's percussive
accompaniment pushes, and Furtado fills all gaps. His slide work infuses
this traditional tune with a bluesy energy that drives you into motion.
"Raleigh and Spencer", another traditional reworking with Kelly Jo Phelps on
vocals, feels as haunting and vacuous as the burning towns must have. The
jazz trio treatment of "Fat Fry on the Hog Farm" with Furtado again on
acoustic slide is adroit in its nearly drunken swagger. "Oh Amante" falls
into an absolutely fantastic space between Dylan's "Pat Garret and Billy the
Kid" and Bill Frisell's "Gone, Just Like a Train" albums. "Tyson's Dream"
lets Darol Anger and Paul McCandless play off of each other over Tony's
rolling banjo. "Miles Alone" moves into that spooky late night on an empty
road space where David Lynch revels.
In short, this album covers a broad canvas, and it does most of it expertly.
However, not even Scott Amendola (formerly of the Charlie Hunter band and
any number of others) can convince me on the opener, "Waiting for Guiteau",
that the drums should ever have met the banjo. This is Blueground
Undergrass territory, and it doesn't need to be mined again, even by BGUG.
In another rare misstep, the Celtic "Oaktown Ceili" drips with gaudy
spangles and baubles on an album whose heart is its lack of pretension, but
the disc is still far more hit than miss.
The Tony Furtado Band in all of its many mutations has crafted a diverse
work whose best moments, of which there are many, make you wish that the
line-up on that given tune would record an entire album, all of which is a
tribute to Furtado's ability not only to work with a range of players but
also to his ability to chose the proper cast for each cut. Whichever role
he fills, Furtado is the heart of every track, lending his personal stamp to
each and binding the disc into a cohesive whole that is well worth hearing.