Tony Furtado

These Chains

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On These Chains, renowned instrumentalist Tony Furtado has turned the tables on his own career. Long heralded as one of the finest banjoists progressive bluegrass ever spawned, and highly regarded for his inventive, dizzying, slide guitar playing as well, he's added "singer/songwriter" to his resume on this set. Sure, he's written songs before, and he's no stranger to singing. But until now, Furtado has been regarded primarily as an instrumentalist who indulged other muses. Furtado wrote nine of the 13 tracks here, and collaborated on three others. In addition, there is only one instrumental on the record. Producer and bassist Dusty Wakeman (Lucinda Williams, Dwight Yoakam) assembled a smoking band for the sessions, including drummer Jim Christie, Skip Edwards on keyboards, drummer/percussionist Michael Tempo of the Bonedaddys, and Williams' guitarist Doug Pettibone. Vocalist Gia Ciambotti from Badly Drawn Boy adds backing touches here, as do Kat Maslich and Peter Adams from Eastmountainsouth. The number of styles here is dizzying. The set opens with the title track, a burning electric blues rocker. The cut time shuffle and snarling blend of electric and acoustic guitars underscores the protagonist's tale of terror and darkness. Furtado's banjo enters the fray on "Good Stuff," a rumbling, bass heavy rocker that walks the line between country, bluegrass, and explosive hard rock. But there are introspective moments here too, such as the beautiful "Standing in the Rain," a collaboration with Jules Shear. Driven by an organic weave of acoustic and electric guitars, it's a vulnerable testament of acceptance and redemption wrapped in a love song. "The Prisoner," written with NRBQ's Al Anderson, is a simple, moving country tune; it's wide open and sunny and moving and could be covered by virtually any of the hat kids on CMT, but the restless soul in Furtado's and Anderson's tune is captured in the singer's yearning tenor. The album closes with a moving version of Bob Dylan's "One Too Many Mornings." Shear offers a deeply moving harmony vocal to underscore the sadness and resignation in Furtado's vocal. It's a fitting end to an album that was a long time in coming. Furtado has been full of surprises since 1997's Roll My Blues Away, the album that seemingly began this labyrinthine journey. This is an excellent stop on the road to whatever comes next. Here's hoping he explores it further.

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