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Album Review

Slide guitar and banjo whiz Tony Furtado's fourth album in four years (for his fourth label) is a perfect encapsulation of how his sound has grown. Encompassing folk, blues, funk, and jazz, the disc kicks off with a seven-minute jam on "False Hearted Lover" featuring Paul McCandless on reeds (a recent addition to the American Gypsies). The ex-Oregon member adds unique East Indian snake-charmer scales as the group churns up a frothy backing. It, like most of these live performances of tunes taken predominantly from Furtado's past two releases, leaves the studio versions in the dust. Furtado's dusky vocals resonate with a successful combination of pathos and intensity, neither detracting from, nor overwhelming the crack playing at this album's heart. The songs typically clock in at over five minutes, giving the soloists room to stretch out. The balance of instrumentals ("The Angry Monk" and "The Ghost of Blind Willie Johnson") and folk/blues ("Stagerlee") successfully mixes tempos and moods, but the jams are definitely the focus here. Although his award-winning banjo work takes a back seat to his atmospheric Ry Cooder guitar tone, Furtado still tears it up on the jaw-dropping album-closing banjo instrumental "Waiting for Guiteau," where he burns with fleet-fingered jazz fusion intensity. On the more tranquil side is "Bottle of Hope," a languorous ballad, featuring John Burr's piano, and a tremolo-laden guitar solo that sounds like it originated from an obscure Cooder soundtrack. The New Orleans/Little Feat rhythm of "Fat Fry on the Hog Farm," another instrumental, allows Furtado to wallow in snappy folk funk. His tight band generally keeps their contributions on the back burner, but like a great partnership, they provide the foundation for Furtado's incredible string work. Throughout its nearly 70-minute playing time, Live Gypsy winds through enough twists and turns to rivet the listener, even for those who aren't jam lovers or guitar players.

Live Gypsy, Tony Furtado & The American Gypsies
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