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Tony Furtado goes for a lucky "Thirteen"

By Jason MacNeil, January 2007

Although there is Canadian pop star named Nelly Furtado, you would be hard pressed to find California native Tony Furtado attempting to do the same thing - getting people on the dance floor with a genre-blending blend of pop, disco, hip-hop and rock.

Furtado, who mixes rootsy, old time, folk, swing and jazz styles, comes from a fine line of guitarists who got their start through their guitar playing before realizing they could create songs that were just as fine.

After releasing the critically acclaimed "These Chains" in 2004, Furtado returned with a live album entitled "Bare Bones" in 2005. Now, closing in on almost 2 decades since his 1989 debut "Swamped," the musician and ace banjo player is back with "Thirteen" (Funzalo).

And for Furtado, it just might be that luck is on his side.

"I'm very pleased," Furtado says from the shoulder of some Oregon highway en route to a pre-Christmas gig that evening. "It was definitely a different process for me having so many producers that were playing on it. It went surprisingly well. It was a lot of fun."

Furtado, who lives in Portland, Ore., says that this album was derived from the artist being in a different mindset than his previous studio effort.

"The songs are definitely deeper and from a more personal space than (the songs) on 'These Chains' were," he says. "On 'These Chains,' we kind of touched on that, but I was so new to the songwriting thing that this time I feel like I was able to go deeper."

The album contains a string of originals mixed with a sprinkle of interesting covers. Furtado says between 16 and 17 songs were recorded, but these were eventually pared down to, you guessed it, 13 songs. The recording itself took only four or five days with some tinkering done later on.

As for the originals, there are a few that seem to stand out, including the tender and somewhat bittersweet "California Flood."

"Musically, I was listening to a lot of Elliott Smith at the time, and so, I have to think I was influenced a bit by that," Furtado says. "Lyrically, I think I had written a little poem about being a kid and thinking about summers on the California Delta. We had a boat out there. And also some of the different things were intertwined in there, memories of my folks and just some different personal problems - interfamily stuff - that I don't necessarily want to elaborate on. I know it's kind of abstract, but I think they are kind of intertwined."

Although that song is strong, perhaps the highlight of the album is the title track. The song comes from the horrid Sago coal mine explosion in West Virginia in early 2006 that saw 13 miners trapped underground. Initial reports by stated that 12 of the miners were alive and would be rescued. But initial reports were false, with 12 of the miners dead and 1 lone survivor.

Despite the horror of the event, Furtado says actually writing the song was quite easy.

"My manager turned to me one day and asked, 'Do you have any mining songs?'" he says. "I had never written any mining songs. He said, 'Well that Sago mine disaster just happened.' So. I started reading up a bunch about it and realized how tragic and intense it was."

"I had a melody that was sitting around from another song that I had written that just seemed to work," Furtado adds. "So. I took that melody and married it with some verses that I wrote, and I came up with a chorus. It kind of just all fell into place."

The artist says that he finds writing songs that are factual or based in reality easier to write than perhaps a fictional topic, theme or idea.

"Well for me it can be easier writing about something topical," he says. "I'm kind of a history buff. so I love thinking about historical stuff and then regurgitating or coming up with other ways of looking at what happened whether it's abstract or literal. Sometimes with the true stuff, like about myself, I always had a hard time coming up with my own emotional stuff until this album."

"These was one track on 'These Chains' that came out of my father's cancer that he went through that just kind of spilled out," he continues. "But this album, I was able to write songs based more about emotion."

Although the original material is good, perhaps the other sleeper picks on the album were not written at all by Furtado.

Three covers grace "Thirteen," including The Who classic "Won't Get Fooled Again." The two other gems include Elton John's "Take Me To The Pilot" and Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son."

"I probably wouldn't have said, 'Let's do three cover songs,'" Furtado explains. "I was hoping for just a couple, but that's just kind of what happened. Those songs fell into place with the others. I wasn't the only decision maker on it."

"'Won't Get Fooled Again' just felt great," he adds. "I started doing that one at live shows solo, and it was an easy choice. 'Fortunate Son,' I remembered hearing when I was a kid, my parents had a couple of old Creedence Clearwater Revival albums that I listened to all the time. The Elton John song was suggested by other people, and so I tried it. I'm working on getting comfortable, but it's a fun song."

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