For more than a decade, New Mexico funk act Felonious Groove Foundation has won fans and awards all across the state. Throughout, co-founder and bassist Todd Eric Lovato has been at the center of the hot, funky action. Now, Lovato is calling it quits to focus his energy on a new project, Todd & the Fox.

A two-piece with drummer Erik Sawyer (of local bluegrass outfit Family Coal), Todd & the Fox achieves a fresh blend of banjo riffs, subtle electronic experimentalism and country-ish rock 'n' roll.

Lovato layers effects over the banjo for an intriguing, modern sound. Certainly the well-known, plucky sounds of the banjo remain intact, but Lovato takes the instrument to strange new places. Sawyer adds killer fills and straight rock rhythm to the catalog, with the addition of foot-played bass pedals (like on an organ) rounding out the duo's signature style. Though elements of folk, bluegrass and Americana tend to find their way into Lovato's songs, he insists he isn't aiming for revivalist music.

"I'd call it pop before I called it Americana," Lovato tells SFR. "So much of it is driven by my interest in incorporating what I consider to be the good parts of electronic music with the more traditional aspects of songwriting."
It all boils down to a series of refreshingly simple and undeniably catchy songs. Lovato is a master of cross-genre songwriting. From song to song, nailing down a label for the music is hard. This is a good thing.

On tracks such as "Blessed Christine," the rolling, country-style bump-bump of the bass adds a toe-tapping element to Lovato's version of a down-and-dirty love song. Lovato's banjo prowess shines through with a bluesy slant as he transitions into a shredding solo so excellent that one could almost swear he was playing a guitar.

On "I Miss My Girl," Lovato enters powerful territory as the melancholy reverb aids the bum-out tone of the tried-and-true lonely ballad. These songs are just the beginning.

Lovato and Sawyer are currently hard at work on a debut album. For production, the duo enlisted %uFFFDber-talented local musician and producer Jono Manson and his Kitchen Sink Studio.

"It's so exciting to work with someone like Jono," Lovato says. "He has been such an incredible resource when it comes to developing the Todd & the Fox sound."

We can expect an album of chart-topping hits sometime this fall and, according to Lovato, "some really aggressive touring shortly after that."

In the meantime, Lovato still has a few shows scheduled with Felonious Groove Foundation, so if you're a fan, check it out while you can. Lovato's final performance will be part of the ninth annual Santa Fe Bandstand series later this month.

Lovato's departure from his longtime band is bittersweet.

"I honestly love this band, but I just can't keep gigging all the time and still have enough energy left over for Todd & the Fox," Lovato says. "Being in nightclubs all the time isn't easy and, when you wake up hungover or even just exhausted, the last thing you want to do is track vocals or write a song…I came to realize that, in order for everyone to get what they wanted, it was simply time for me to step aside, but I can assure you the band will go on strong without me."

For now, we can all be excited at the prospect of a new addition to our local music landscape. Todd & the Fox has an unforgettably awesome sound right out of the gate. Given the international hysteria surrounding indie duos (not to mention anything with an even slightly country/folk sound), it has a decent head start on the road to super-stardom.

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