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Classic Quartet

We know a classic when we see one, hear one, feel one. Forgive me for sounding like a Cadillac ad voice over or something, but seriously, sometimes there’s just an ineffable sense that something beautiful and meaningful is unfolding. And while we can’t pull that off every single week, we try to put the pieces in place for a chemical reaction. And this week it happened. There was combustion and satisfaction. We ranged across the country and across roots music terrain with acoustic grand master Tony Furtado from Portland, OR, Texas-raised songwriter Curtis McMurtry, Colorado polyethnic joyride Gipsy Moon and veteran John Jorgenson’s remarkable bluegrass band.

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Curtis McMurtry got a laugh but he wasn’t really joking when he said he writes “sad songs and mean songs.” There was, among the minor melancholy repertoire, a military suicide and a song by one guy to another brazenly bragging about how he stole his girl. “Rebecca” at least felt more romantic with its jazz chords. And Curtis wrapped with the really infectious song “Wrong Inflection,” joined here as throughout by Diana Burgess on cello and voice.

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I apologize for some of my secret skepticism about Gipsy Moon. I’ve seen too many crunchy mountain bands adopting Eastern trappings and adding a djembe that made mush to be totally on board from the outset, but it only took a minute. The complexity of the string arrangements (for bass, cello, fiddle and mandolin) was admirable and alluring. The energy of opener “Miserlou” (an old Mediterranean folk song that became the basis for Dick Dale’s twangy version that wound up in Pulp Fiction) proved this sextet meant business. The ensemble interplay and the individual strengths of everyone plus the tasty three part harmony on “Some Days” all made for a fresh and fervent set. A very loud standing ovation ensued.

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Tony Furtado was even more dazzling on his stringed instruments than I anticipated, playing a hybrid fingerstyle bottleneck slide acoustic guitar that helped him sound like a full band on set opener “Give Me Your Soul.” He donned a large cello banjo with lush low tones on an angry protest song called “Broken Bell.” Where I really got the chills though was on the acoustic guitar driven “Peggy-O” with guest Luke Bulla on fiddle. The harmonies had delicious tensions and airy beauty, against a solid groove. Tony’s singing is impeccable and he’s just all around one of Americana’s acoustic masters.

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John Jorgenson indulged three of his varied fields of guitar mastery on his latest Divertuoso album, but on this night, his focus was on bluegrass via his quartet with bassist Mark Fain, guitarist Patrick Sauber and banjo player/singer Herb Petersen. With their long backgrounds in country rock, there’s a touch of California breeze in their sound, but it’s bluegrass at its core, such as the brisk opener “Beautiful Sound.” They did a delicate take on Rodney Crowell’s “Wandering Boy” and a train song disguised as a gospel song called “Ridin’ on the L & N.” An instrumental called “Feather” shifted Jorgenson from mandolin to guitar. And they did a fine, somewhat speedy version of the Seldom Scene classic “Wait A Minute.” As songwriter John Duffy used to say, “bless your heart and all your vital organs.”

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