“The First Pebble,” the opening track of Gina Furtado’s new album with The Gina Furtado Project, rambles spiritedly off, floating on Furtado’s swirling banjo rolls over which she lays her crystalline vocals. The bridge kicks off with Furtado’s driving banjo, which then moves aside to showcase the propulsive licks of fiddler Nathan Leath, mandolinist Danny Knicely, and guitarist Chris Luquette. It’s a straight-ahead bluegrass stomper that reveals the promise of the high quality of the rest of the album.
Furtado and her band carry us through a variety of tunes ranging from the sashaying jazz of “Take Your Time (I’ll Be Fine)” to the spacious and spare and slowly unfolding ballad “A Man Like That.” Furtado penned all but two of the songs: Daniel Johnston wrote “The Story of an Artists” and Paul Williams and Kenneth L. Ascher penned album closer “Can You Picture That?”
The swinging “Dancin’ to Your Tune” jumps off the album joyously with a pop-inflected groove woven around a funky jazz beat, featuring Django Reinhardt-like guitar lines on the bridge. The gorgeous instrumental “The Princess and the Pea” opens sparsely with harmonics before dashing off into a breathless bluegrass romp; the song finishes up with a gypsy guitar and banjo flourish. The album closes with the delightful rap “Can You Picture That?” with vocals by Chris Jones (with whom Furtado played in the Night Drivers before starting up The Gina Furtado Project), a series of phrases and words strung together over banjo riffs. The group falls out in laughter as the song fades, with Furtado yelling, “Hey, that wasn’t half bad.”
I Hope You Have a Good Life is far more than half good, though; it’s fun, it’s energetic, it’s riveting, and it showcases the ways that Furtado and the band offer innovative takes on traditional bluegrass.