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Furtado is finger-picking good

Tony Furtado, who is barely out of his 20s, has taken the banjo to a whole new level.

The frontman for the Tony Fortado Band specializes in an easy-going, laid-back bluegrass sound that makes anyone who considers the banjo a less than first-class instrument look stupid.

The band will bring its unique music steeped in rock, blues, Celtic, funk and world beat to Albuquerque Saturday.

The group's self-titled CD, which was released by Cojema Music, is the type of record that grabs your attention immediately. The sound on the band's sixth album hooks the listener, who can expect to walk away appreciating the combination of extensive banjo solos and infectious, upbeat songs made for dancing.

Tony Furtado Band definitely is a self-indulgent effort by a group that has the freedom to stay true to its roots and produce songs with extended instrumentals showcasing Furtado's true talent - the banjo. It is easy to see why Furtado was crowned the National Banjo Champion in 1987 and 1991 at a Winfield, Kans., competition.

Furtado plays the banjo in its purest form, and, if you listen closely to solo portions of the record, you are rewarded because the medley formed by Furtado's fingers and his banjo's strings truly sing.

When I was lured in to review this record, I was told that based on the CD cover - a Hispanic man strumming a banjo - that Furtado could be considered the next Santana. I was rewarded for my effort and discovered that Furtado possesses talent on the banjo that rivals the music legend's guitar prowess, but the Santana comparison is still stretching it a bit.

While the band's release is a strong salute to acoustic work, it lacks Santana's ability to produce a record that you never get tired of and listen to all the way through without skipping a track.

The band still is certainly worth the price of the CD and admission to its show. It should be fun to watch this relatively young Tony Furtado Band grow, develop and hone its skills. The art form the group is striving to master is hard to perfect because few people have the patience and appreciation for work that stands on its own.

The Tony Furtado Band leaves the frills at home and just comes out to play, daring its listeners to get lost in the music. But with that kind of style, the band has nowhere to hide its mistakes, which is part of the reason why icons such as Santana hit their stride later in their careers.

Tony Furtado Band was produced and recorded by Grammy-nominated engineer Cookie Marenco and three of the album's 12 cuts feature world-renowned blues guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps on vocals. Phelps, a huge Furtado fan, left his guitar behind and drove nine hours to add his voice to the bluegrass tunes.

With Phelps willing to go to great lengths to work with the Tony Furtado Band, nothing should stop bluegrass fans and acoustic banjo lovers from catching the group's Albuquerque concert. The band averages 220 shows a year and is riding high after strong performances in Cannes, France and sold-out shows throughout the West.

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The Tony Furtado Band will play the Golden West Saloon at 9:30 p.m. Saturday for a 21-and-over show. Tickets are available for $7 in advance online at, or call 798-2624 for more information.

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