Live Gypsy – Tony Furtado and the American Gypsies
Dualtone Records 803020-1141-2
Tony Furtado's musical prowess is beyond question. Within the last few
he's displayed the same aptitude for blues slide guitar as he originally did
for banjo, the instrument that he earned his bones with.
Likewise, his ability to incorporate bluegrass, Celtic, blues, jazz and folk
influences into a cohesive sound has earned comparisons to influences and
mentors such as Bela Fleck and Ry Cooder.
As Live Gypsy demonstrates quickly, Furtado also faces the same
his heroes: the genre blending, though an admirable approach, sometimes
comes across as little more than light listening. Can the gutbucket blues
not help but be defanged when incorporated with a Celtic melody or breezy
The majority of the disc's 12 cuts are taken from Furtado's last two discs,
so the frontman, who sticks largely to guitar here, and band are in a
comfort zone with the material, which was recorded during April and May of
last year. Still, it's hard not to hear Furtado's piercing slide guitar
runs on a tune like "False Hearted Lover's Blues" being at odds with Paul
McCandless snaky eastern horn scales or the overall polish of the backing
band. (Interestingly, similar serpentine scales suit the straight-forward
rocker "Oh Berta Berta" well). It's also hard to believe Furtado when he
sings a line like "Corn whiskey has wrecked my body" because, as any casual
blues fan knows, these songs are best presented by men who have lived what
they're singing about.
Furtado and the American Gypsies too often wander into the territory of the
most common complaint against Bela Fleck and the Flecktones: despite their
virtuosity and borderless vision of creating music, why does it often sound
like music for the New Age/Nature Store crowd?
Vocally, Furtado takes the same approach that Sting and Paul Simon do to
their more earthy pursuits. While their gentle approach is great for mass
consumption, it does little for authenticity. But then again, the general
public always feels hip listening to a familiar artist's take on world/roots
music because it doesn't require them to go to the source. And, hey, it
makes them appear cultured in social situations. "Some of Shelly's Blues," a
perfectly crafted light rock tune, would actually benefit Paul Simon's
recent discs. Here, it provides a nice respite at the half way point of the
67 minute disc.
When this aggregate strips things down a bit, the results are more pleasing.
On "The Ghost of Blind Willie Johnson," Furtado's slicing riffage encounters
little interference and therefore it lives up to the blueprint provided by
the tune's namesake. The last track, "Waiting for Guiteau," returns the
bandleader to his bluegrass roots. With a somewhat different band, Furtado
gets downright old-timey. If only the rest of this disc was as old-timey.