If you had picked up Golden without hearing one of Tony Furtado's previous 14 albums you'd never guess that originally he was a banjo prodigy. After winning the Nation Bluegrass Banjo competition at 19 he was on his way towards the bluegrass bus and the summer festival circuit season when he made a musical left turn into blues, learning slide guitar and lap steel. Then he detoured into songwriting. For his 15th album Tony Furtado serves up a rock/pop/folk/ soufflé that combines songwriting, picking, and vocals into one tasty entree.
Furtado has been writing good songs for some
time, but the latest batch on Golden
is among his best work. The instrumental "Portlandia" has a bluesy melody
that curls around itself in a banjo backstep. Furtado combines this percussive
banjo line with an ethereal electric slide guitar part that floats above the
beat like fluffy white cloud on a sunny day. Another hypnotic blues stomp, "Can't Lie Down" features a snappy chorus that surges with second line
rhythms hung around the banjo riff.
Early in his career Furtado was known more for his picking prowess than his vocals, but on Golden he's elevated his singing to a level equal to his playing. On some tunes Furtado's voice reminds me of Paul Simon's. They have very similar harmonic timbres and at times even Furtado's phrasing reminds me of Simon's. This is not a bad thing.
Co-producer and engineer Rob Stroup recorded Golden
at his 8-Ball Studio, which is located near Furtado's home in Portland Oregon.
Local musicians including Paul Brainard on pedal steel, Scott Law on mandolin,
Tye North on bass, and Anders Bergstrom on drums give the album a relaxed "down home" quality. The playing is more about making the ensemble mesh than
stringing together hot licks. The results are pretty much Golden.