The Americana genre is home to many talented artists and this is something I’ve been fully grasping as I’ve explored the music throughout it. There are so many different artists with different sounds and styles, yet at the end of the day I’ve found the majority of them all come from the same place: their heart. This is where the true music comes from and Americana artist Tony Furtado is certainly an artist who sings from his heart. The singer-songwriter from Oakland, California is a banjo player and slide guitar player. In the sixth grade he became a banjo player after writing a report about banjos and making a rough banjo out of materials around his house. So you can see why this artist of Portuguese and Italian heritage plays music today in the vein of Celtic folk and Americana. Earlier this summer he came out with his new album The Bell, released on his own label Yousayfurtado Records. It’s important to point out the inspiration behind this album before I review it. Furtado describes this album as “a very personal journey inspired by the loss of my father, the birth of my son and few uncontrollable changes in my career.” The entire album is in dedication to his father, William “Bill” Furtado, and you can certainly feel the pain he suffered as a result of his loss throughout it. I only wish I had come across The Bell sooner because it’s an album full of fantastic songwriting and instrumentation.
“Broken Bell” kicks off the album and it has a decidedly Celtic folk sound. The production and instrumentation on this song is very well done. The acoustic, especially the fiddle, are engaging and immediately grasp the listeners’ attentions. It was also a nice touch by Furtado to add the sound of rattling chains when he sings the line, “You will never chain my mind.” It helps the listeners connect with the song even more. The beautifully written “Tired Lions” follows this. Furtado says the inspiration for this song came from a sculpture of a lion he saw: The title of this song was inspired by a beautiful sculpture I saw at the DeYoung museum in San Francisco. It’s a sculpture of what appears to be a very tired, worn out lion. It made me think of my father. Then the song came. To be able to derive inspiration from a sculpture shows the true songwriting talents of Furtado. I don’t think a lot of songwriters could do this. I would also be remiss to not point out the great pedal steel and banjo play in this song that gives this song the perfect mood.
Up next is “Dying Language.” It’s a song about dealing with hateful and ignorant words. Furtado sings of how we all deal with it and how it can affect each of us in a different way. It’s definitely a song I think all of us connect with in some way, as we all have to deal with this negativity in our lives. Once again Furtado shows off his brilliant songwriting. The all-instrumental “Astoria” shows off the talent of Furtado’s band and leads us into “Low Road.” It’s a song short on words and deep in meaning. The brevity of the song itself really allows the reader’s mind to wander and imagine for them what this song means. To me the song is about watching someone you love destroy themselves with bad decisions and getting trapped in a bad situation as a result. But it’s not only harmed them, but the ones around them. This is definitely one of those songs where the “less is more” approach pays off.
As I mentioned at the beginning of the review, the death of Furtado’s father was one of the inspirations behind his album and “Tall Grass” is certainly one of those songs that draws from it. It seems to be about how Furtado and his brother looked up so much to their father and how his lost makes them feel alone in the world without him. It’s a sobering and sad song that will surely touch those who have lost loved ones in their life. Another all-instrumental song in “Iowa” prefaces “Give Me Your Soul.” It’s a love song where Furtado professes his love for a woman. But he’s not interested in her looks, but rather her soul. Now upon first listen this song can kind of come off as creepy on the surface, with the somewhat serious tone of the instrumentation and the line about “flesh and bones.” It’s really though a sweet and catchy love song.
“Ashes of a Man” is another song where Furtado sings about the death of his father. And again Furtado really bears his soul in the music. You can feel the passion and love he felt for his father and the impact it’s made on his life. It’s really a sad song, but I find it to be a reminder once again that you should cherish all of the loved ones in your life. “The Collier’s Daughter” is a song about a man appearing to fall in love with a collier’s daughter. For those unaware, a collier is another word for coal miner. The man though seems to be unsure if he should run off with her or not. I didn’t connect with this song as much as I did others on the album, but it’s still a solid song nonetheless.
The last all-instrumental song on The Bell, “Jo Jo,” plays into the final two songs. Now I know some people don’t like these types of songs, but I find them to be effective when used properly. Furtado uses them properly in this album, as I find them to be nice breathers after the deeper and emotional songs. Plus his band is quite good. The next song, “Lie Alone,” is another song where Furtado expresses the pain of losing his father. It’s another heart breaker that will surely tug at your emotions. Furtado certainly proves to have a knack for writing songs that can rip your heart out of your chest. The Bell closes out with its happiest song, “Star.” While Furtado mourns the death of his father throughout much of the album, he also celebrates the beginning of life with his newborn son with this song. It’s an uplifting reminder of how life works in a circle. While you may lose the light of someone you dearly love in one instance, in the next you can gain the light of someone else you love dearly. Life is beautiful this way and Furtado expresses this well through his music.
Tony Furtado flat-out impresses me on The Bell. When I think of Americana music, this is what I want to hear. The songwriting is poignant and thought-provoking throughout. The concepts of life and death are really the main themes of this album. Furtado takes these themes and really meshes them together well to come up with messages that are heartfelt and impactful on the listeners. The instrumentation and production are well done on pretty much every song, allowing the lyrics to really shine and resonate. I highly recommend you check out The Bell. If you can appreciate great songwriting, you can appreciate Tony Furtado and his music.