One would think that a bluegrass-rock cover of the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” would be a pretty damn good idea. Because, y’know, why not, especially in the hands of Tony Furtado? This ultra-sincere guitarist made a bit of a splash with his last album, These Chains; he’s got chops for days, he’s got a good political profile, one would think he would be able to rip this classic a new one.
But he doesn’t. The song is lively enough, but it just kind of happens, with no drama and no shift in mood and no anything. You NEED a huge solo here, or a catharsis, or something—but it just never happens. Fortunately, he comes through on a lot of other tracks. But when you can’t deliver on your big splashy cover song, it’s a sign that you need to remember what you’re trying to accomplish.
It’s not like there isn’t any drama elsewhere. Furtado’s spooky original almost-title song, “Thirteen Below”, has drama to spare—written about the Sego mining disaster, it’s got a lot of old-soul folky doom and a thrillingly disturbing way with some huge power chords. “Hurtin’ in My Right Side” packs even more punch in this way, with old hand Jim Dickinson pounding out some massive things on the piano to go along with this old swing-dance song turned into a ghostly rock tune. And “Stay Awhile”, driven by Furtado’s acoustic and slide lines, hums along quite nicely.
And he nails it on the album’s other cover song. “Fortunate Son” has always been John Fogerty’s best track, and Furtado is smart to slow it down to emphasize the heartbreak in the words. (He is aided, here as elsewhere, by Stephanie Schneiderman’s lovely harmony vocals.) Furtado’s solos are economical and meaningful; when he hits that effects pedal halfway though one solo, it hits really hard.
But some other stuff just doesn’t make it for this reviewer. Despite the momentum of opener “Used”, the song makes no impact at all, and doesn’t really even seem to have a melody at all. “The Alcohol” is a slow slog inspired by Bukowski, and that makes it zero for two in terms of impact. “Take Me to the Pilot” has nice ideas sprinkled throughout, but it never goes for the throat. Is it about Jesus? Is it about love? Why should we care, when the song devolves into uninteresting “na na na” nonsense halfway through? (For the record, I love nonsense—but not when it is thrown in to mask a lack of ideas.)
Without a killer instinct, Tony Furtado will continue to keep playing to his alt.rootsy audience, and his mad guitar skillz will impress the hell out of them. But he will just kind of remain in that niche forever. Come on, man, slay us with fun and action and fireworks and raw naked emotion! At least, y’know, more than three times on a 13-song record.