Guitar and banjo virtuoso Tony Furtado takes acoustic outside the box

By Bliss Bowen

Tony Furtado’s new record finds him in peak form

Tony Furtado is one of those musicians who can cause even the most seasoned players to feel the need to practice their scales.

Early in his career, Furtado developed prodigious chops playing in Laurie Lewis’ Grant Street band, and onstage or in the studio he’s as likely to pull out a banjo (he’s twice won the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship) as the slide guitar that heats up his live shows. (In that, the California native takes after a great-uncle who emigrated to the States from Italy, although whether Uncle Joe played cello-banjo like Furtado is an open question.)

Since 1989 the sometime sculptor and Portland resident has released more than 15 albums graced by luminaries such as Bela Fleck, Alison Krauss, Kelly Joe Phelps, Earl Scruggs and Tony Trischka — all critically praised collections braiding progressive bluegrass, blues, Celtic, folk, jazz and rock.

That diversity has made Furtado tough to pigeonhole, which has given marketing execs headaches but enhanced his appeal to Americana and jam-band audiences drawn to music with some earthy roots.

Furtado thus remains best known as a live performer, and his recently released “Cider House Sessions – Live at Reverend Nat’s” finds him in peak form, trading dynamic solos with longtime friends like mandolinist Matt Flinner and national fiddle champ Luke Price as well as harmonizing with vocalist wife Stephanie Schneiderman.

Unlike 2003’s “Live Gypsy,” the new album is an acoustic set — reflective of what listeners can expect when he performs Friday at Boulevard Music with Price and upright bassist Sam Howard.

The Bluegrass Situation presents the Tony Furtado Trio in concert at Boulevard Music (4316 Sepulveda Blvd., Culver City) at 8 p.m. Friday, April 21. Tickets are $17.50. Call (310) 398-2583 or visit boulevardmusic.com.