Tony Furtado &
the American Gypsies,
Live Gypsy
(Dualtone, 2003)

Tony Furtado started out as a banjo prodigy and quickly became an up-and-coming player on the bluegrass scene, most notably with Laurie Lewis's band Grant Street. More recently, he has gone solo, picked up the slide guitar and started creating difficult-to-categorize music. This CD, a collection of live cuts from his 2002 tour, shows the current state of his art. Half of the tracks are live versions of pieces from his most recent studio album, American Gypsy.

Furtado and company mix up folk, blues, bluegrass, rock and jazz and come out leaning toward the jazz end of the spectrum, albeit with some instruments not often found in jazz. Furtado's co-conspirators include Tom Brechtlein on drums and backing vocals, Myron Dove on bass, Paul McCandless on horns, flute and whistles, and John R. Burr on keyboards. (The concluding track, "Waiting for Guiteau," has a different lineup from the rest of the album.)

The material combines pieces composed by Furtado and songs that are either traditional or written by others. The opener, "False Hearted Lover's Blues," is the platform for a jam that sends McCandless off into an almost Middle Eastern sound with his blowing. The traditional "Oh Berta Berta" turns into a churning jam worthy of Santana and, as the applause dies away, the band launches into a perfect lilting slow dance called "Bottle of Hope" (for something completely different). "The Ghost of Blind Willie Johnson" combines slide and sax for a piece that shows the roots and branches of blues, all at the same time. Just to show he can treat a song right, Furtado also turns in a version of "Some of Shelly's Blues" that isn't about jamming, just about the song itself.

Furtado and the American Gypsies do a great job of playing music that is impossible to pigeonhole, but music that is essentially American at the same time. If you love any of the great wellsprings of music that come from the American vernacular -- blues, jazz, folk, rock, bluegrass, country -- do yourself a favor and get this album.

- Rambles
written by Jennifer Hanson
published 20 March 2004

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