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.
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."