Bare Bones – Tony Furtado
Funzalo Records 90003-2
Rather than releasing a disc of new studio songs, he already has a couple on the shelves, Tony Furtado recorded some summertime sets in 2004 and culled the best takes for a representative compilation CD. Furtado picks ballad, folk, and blues foundations, weaving melodies through harmonic looms, while his slide technique shreds with scythe-like precision. In turn, his voice is smooth and colorful, making for hard-to-knock entertainment.
Though Furtado's sets seem to vary little from night to night, the blues don't care. On Bare Bones, the picked instrumental "The Angry Monk" bores into "Raleigh and Spencer" without a pause and without throwing the depressed mood. These two should remain a song pair. "Standing in the Rain" is resplendent. Furtado sings, "I don’t know when it ever felt so good to be standing in the rain." I’d stand in the rain listening to him and feel just fine about it most anytime, because he is that good.
As a singer-songwriter, Furtado's never going to sell out a stadium, but I've heard some great music on rickety back porches. Imagine your friend who can pull a string better than anyone else you know. Furtado's likely much better. Is there really anything much more enjoyable than gathering around this friend with a few other compadres (maybe, playing along, too) and sinking into a loving hole of music? I don't think so, and I'd gamble that Furtado's had more than a few of these moments along his way. He plays with the consideration of a friend playing for friends. (Sadly, so much mystical music has been played for friends and lost to history, not having been recorded.). If you see him live you may have to hold back the drive to jump on stage and take a seat beside him, his approach is that comfortable.
"St. John's Fire" sparks with the watery clack of a picked banjo and seamlessly transitions into the less assuming (while more harmonically extravagant) "Bolinas," gaining confidence through a flurry of banjo feathers. Grab some Visine for "Can you Hear the Rain," because you'll probably feign an eyelash in the eye while it trickles. Slides can become too belligerent if not controlled. Not so here. Furtado's minimalized delivery on this instrumental allows the listener to dream the way a rain-clacked tin roof can, while he nudges along gently, more a sprinkle than a deluge of sound.
"Oh Berta, Berta" is a prison work tune Furtado's interpreted and there's not a more melancholy track here. The triplet of "I Will > Hazel Comes > Willow John" is magnificent. His banjo chirps with the assurance of morning birds, boils over, simmers back and boils again through the intricate melodic morphs. He ends with the Mississippi-slide stretched "Cypress Grove Blues." The slide hurriedly flips to a pick (with slide teases for effect) and one of his better tracks emerges as the closer.
My dream is to find more artists playing their new and old songs for crowds (as they already do), recording those concerts and releasing the best takes (preferably the new stuff) to disc. Baring an artist's desire to hermit into a booth and craft a masterpiece, if you can pull your desired sound off live I'd probably rather hear that over edits from a sometimes-too-controlled director's chair. It's why I record almost every show I attend. All good though. Both have valid artistic space. I just tend to melt over snapshots like these. As Furtado says in the liner notes, in reference to the album, that "it is what it was."