The Tony Furtado Band

The Tony Furtado Band is not a jam band, nor is it strictly a folk-bluegrass unit. There's a bit of jazz here, a snatch of Irish folk there, some Appalachia, a generous helping of blues. But since there's not really a snappy description for this particular genre-melt, Furtado prefers to call it "new American roots."

So what the hell is new American roots? Think of the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, with its modern approach to old-timey roots music. Think of Ry Cooder's early-'70s recordings, only with better production values. It's an earthy communion of styles, a pleasant aesthetic that's perfectly suited to the outdoor folk-festival circuit.

The road to establishing the new American roots movement has been a fairly straightforward one for Furtado, an accomplished banjo player who once entered -- and won -- the Grand National Banjo Championship in Kansas, an impulsive move that set him on his current career path. Prior to the release of his first album, Swamped (Rounder, 1992), he toured with such bluegrass names as Laurie Lewis and Grant Street. He's also worked with Alison Krauss and banjo legend Bela Fleck, and his third and fourth albums, Full Circle and Roll My Blues Away, reflect a love affair with blues. So with all this musical miscegenation, it's no surprise Furtado had to carve out a new niche for himself.

The Tony Furtado Band's eponymous release (Cojema Music, 2000) is a fully realized example of this "folkengruven" sound, solid evidence that Furtado has found his sweet spot, that place where all the elements coalesce into something new and exciting. It's enough to make you want to noodle just thinking about it.

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Melanie Haupt