Despite the textual paradox, 15 year old Victor Furtado is indeed a master of old time, or clawhammer banjo. He has the various trophies from instrumental competitions within reach of his northern Virginia home to prove it.
And if you may infer that contests don’t always judge the true merit of a musician, you can have a listen to his new, self-titled Patuxent Music release for additional proof. It demonstrates a young man with an absurdly precocious talent, and a depth of understanding of old time music that is at odds with his age.
It helps that he comes from a large, supportive, and very musical family, one that has already produced some strong pickers. Older sisters Malia and Gina perform with prominent West Virginia bluegrass groups, Malia on fiddle with Circa Blue and Gina on banjo with Bud’s Collective.
Victor Furtado contains 15 tracks of primarily traditional fiddle music, along with a pair of his originals. He plays in a highly melodic style, with a clarity and dexterity uncommon in the banjo world, especially for someone only six years into a study of the five string. Some tunes are played in a string band style, with the frailing banjo in a more supportive role to the fiddle, played brilliantly here by producer Nate Leath. Others are banjo showcase pieces, with subtle guitar accompaniment, played as a duet with the fiddle, or performed on solo banjo.
Followers of old time music will recognize favorites like Fortune, Bonaparte Crossing The Rhine, Fly Around My Pretty Little Miss and John Brown’s Dream. Chilly Winds gets a non-traditional interpretation, emphasizing the bluesy elements of the tune, before hopping into a rousing romp and stomp. Shove The Pig’s Foot A Little Farther Into The Fire is an eminently danceable tune, complete with some flatfootin’ from bassist Mark Schatz.
All the tunes succeed to my ear with a few standouts. Durang’s Hornpipe is a fiddle number that has long separated men from boys on any style of banjo. Victor steps up with the men on this solo take, complete with multiple complex variations. His composition, The Ghost On Hippie Hill, is a mournful tune played in unison with the fiddle, while Dark Rider is arranged more like a bluegrass instrumental with banjo, fiddle and guitar taking the lead in turn.
Victor’s version of Florida Blues has been a showpiece for him for the past several years, and it stands up well here with just a rhythm guitar from Danny Knicely. An especially fine tune is Quince Dillon in High B, played as a solo, as is Catlettsburg with its echoes of Golden Slippers in the B part.
The album closes with a lovely air Furtado wrote called The Peace Of The Woods, which he plays on ukulele.
To whatever degree this record is an indication of where this next generation will take the old time tradition, I can emphatically suggest that it’s headed in an interesting and musically challenging direction. Much of it is quite modern, and not “old timey” at all.
See… our old time friends can also enjoy the definitional discussions like we fuss and fret about over “what is bluegrass?”