Born under a bad sign? Hardly. Tony Furtado's 13th release finds the singer/songwriter/guitarist/banjo master in superb form, unspooling roots music driven by his five- and six-string skills and dusky, emotionally riveting voice. His previous release, These Chains
, proved he could compose tunes as powerful as the instrumental covers that often dominated previous discs, and Thirteen
's baker's dozen of tracks--all but three written or co-written by Furtado--continue that process. Although it's predominantly acoustic, he fronts a band of veterans that breathes life and adds a terse edge to thought-provoking tunes that mesh personal and world politics with the same deceptive ease as they update Furtado's traditionally oriented beginnings.
The title cut describes the January 2006 Sago mine disaster, in which 12 of 13 men died. It fuses drama and a conventional folk style with lyrics that describe the incident through the eyes of an omniscient poet. Natural tragedy is also the theme of the reflective "California Flood," while a radically rearranged version of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son" transforms the rocker into a soft, spooky hymn that resonates as forcefully as the original. A rendering of Elton John's "Take Me to the Pilot" doesn't fare quite as well, but when Furtado digs into the Who's "Won't Get Fooled Again," he changes it from an arena-rock anthem to a rootsy, introspective examination of the duplicity of youth culture. Thirteen
is a sparse, mature, relaxed, but far from mellow album that shows Furtado refining his talents as an expressive vocalist, intelligent interpreter, and vivid songwriter who also happens to be an extraordinary guitarist. --Hal Horowitz
: "Thirteen" reveals an artist with a great deal on his mind and a full arsenal of skills with which to express his thoughts and feelings in a captivating way. The album features an all-star cast: keyboardists Sean Slade (producer for The Dresden Dolls, Uncle Tupelo, Radiohead) and Jim Dickinson (Stones, Dylan, John Hiatt, Ry Cooder), bassist Dusty Wakeman (Dwight Yoakum, Lucinda Williams), drummer Winston Watson (Dylan, Giant Sand), and Wavelab's Craig Schumacher (Calexico, Neko Case, Iron & Wine), who produced and engineered the album. Furtado makes an exponential leap into the wide open spaces of mythopoetic America, a terrain inhabited by such personal heroes as Cooder, The Band, Creedence, Petty, and Waits. This heartfelt, multi-leveled work completes Tony's ascent from the folk circuit to the big leagues