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"I don't think I could ever be happy staying in any one place musically," says Tony Furtado. "I can't imagine doing the same thing year after year after year, and I don't know how people are able to do that."

In an ever-evolving recording career that's consistently defied genre restrictions and stylistic boundaries, Tony Furtado has emerged as one of America's most influential and respected young roots musicians.

Continually reinventing and redefining his musical persona, the charismatic composer/bandleader/multi-instrumentalist combines a restless creative spirit with a deep affinity for all manner of roots styles to make music that's both adventurous and accessible. He's also a tireless live performer who's shared the stage with such kindred spirits as Leftover Salmon, String Cheese Incident, Galactic and David Lindley.

The California-bred, Oregon-based artist's new What Are Records? release American Gypsy confirms Furtado's status as genre-bending innovator. The 13-track album, featuring contributions from such noted players as drummers Tom Brechtlein and Aaron Johnston, bassist Myron Dove, keyboardist John R. Burr, guitarist Gawain Mathews and horn man/flautist Paul McCandless, of the seminal acoustic jazz combo Oregon, boasts a seamless fusion of styles and influences, from folk to blues to jazz and beyond, with Furtado's supple, fluid slide guitar work illuminating the melodic and emotional nuances of such instrumentals as "The Angry Monk," "Bottle of Hope" and "Promise of A Better Day." The atmospheric, uplifting "Hartford," featuring Furtado's uniquely lyrical banjo playing, is named in honor of the late John Hartford, whose open-minded eclecticism was a major influence on Furtado's own sensibility.


Elsewhere on American Gypsy, Furtado's longstanding fascination with Celtic music asserts itself on "Tinker's Fancy," while his talents as an electric guitarist are featured on the jazz-inflected "Rising Fog" and the moody "Kentucky Stripmine." The fleet-fingered fretmaster reveals himself to be an equally engaging vocalist on the lushly melodic "Rove Riley Rove"and the grittily bluesy "Oh Berta, Berta," as well as a quietly impassioned reworking of Mike Nesmith's "Some of Shelley's Blues" and a vivid re-imagining of the classic "Staggerlee." The latter number also reappears in a snippet of a loose studio jam that underlines the playful spirit that's present even in Furtado's most experimental excursions.


American Gypsy's stylistic range won't come as a surprise to anyone who's followed Furtado's history. He began playing in earnest at the age of 11 and was soon recognized as a prodigy. By the end of his teens, he'd won a pair of National Bluegrass Banjo Championships and joined noted fiddler Laurie Lewis' string band Grant Street. Although Furtado won widespread acclaim as one of bluegrass' hottest young players, one genre was hardly enough to satisfy his musical wanderlust.

Striking out on his own with his 1989 solo debut Swamped, he quickly began adding new elements including Latin, Cajun, jazz, swing and Celtic influences to the mix. 1992's Within Reach saw Furtado collaborate with such stellar players as Alison Krauss, Jerry Douglas and Stuart Duncan, while 1994's Full Circle delved deeply into acoustic blues and marked the artist's early explorations of slide guitar.


A life-altering encounter with Ry Cooder's classic Paradise and Lunch album helped to crystallize Furtado's eclectic interests into a cohesive musical approach. He spent an intensive two-year woodshedding period mastering his new passion, the slide guitar. He debuted his new, high-energy style on 1997's blues-steeped Roll My Blues Away, on which his new slide guitar mastery merged acoustic textures with a rock rhythm section.


Furtado's emergence as masterful slide guitarist was accompanied by a high-energy live show and a tireless touring schedule that's helped him to win a large and loyal grass-roots following. "This album is close to what I do on stage," Furtado reports, "but I think the live show's a little more intense. The audience is really diverse, from kids who want to rock out to older folkies. But I think it's basically people who appreciate good tunes."


The artist's demographically diverse audience includes many supporters from the booming jam-band community. "In some ways I can relate to the jam crowd, but for me, there has to be a melodic foundation," he notes. "You've got to have some kind of song to hang that jam on. One of the things that attracted me to old blues music, old prison work songs and old Celtic music is that the melodies were so strong."


Considering Furtado's growing interest in writing original lyrics and further exploring the electric guitar, it seems certain that his muse will continue steering him into fresh new musical territory for the foreseeable future.


"I think my audience appreciates the fact that it's diverse, and they're willing to watch me grow with it," Furtado states. "I've always had that attitude of just going with whatever inspires you rather than sticking to any one influence, and I still approach things that way. It's always been kind of a natural progression, and as long that continues I'll be happy."