MOLLY TUTTLE – ” When You’re Ready “

Posted: April 3, 2019 in ALBUMS, MUSIC
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“This album is representative of my life over the past couple years, so it’s a statement of who I am as a songwriter,” says Molly Tuttle. “I love songwriting and I love listening to songwriters and I love singing, so I think this album puts those two — singing and songwriting — in the forefront more than what I’ve done in the past.”

For someone with her serenely disciplined, inquisitive intellect, it probably worked to Tuttle’s advantage that she was schooled from a young age, as many bluegrass prodigies are, in family-band, fiddle-camp and communal-jam environments, receiving one-on-one instruction from her Bay Area music-teacher father. Tuttle was encouraged to pore over the sophisticated techniques of flatpicking legends Clarence White, Doc Watson and Tony Rice, and also grew fascinated with the riveting, spindly lead lines that David Rawlings has played in his old-timey singer-songwriter duo with Gillian Welch. A few years at Berklee College of Music further expanded Tuttle’s horizons with extensive studies of theory and contemporary songwriting, as well as encounters with other virtuosic, broad-minded young musicians. In Nashville, she wound her way through bluegrass, progressive acoustic, singer-songwriter, Americana and folk-pop circles, picking up collaborators and recognition in each.

Tuttle wrote or co-wrote every song on “When You’re Ready”, including “Million Miles,” an unfinished song started by Steve Poltz and Jewel in the 1990s that Poltz mentioned in a songwriting session with Tuttle. Her most personal songs, Tuttle says, usually flow out when she’s alone. But she’s also learned a lot about the writing process by working with others, she says. And there’s nothing like a set time and place, and someone else’s presence, to get things moving.

“I think usually when I get writer’s block it’s because I’m just vetoing my own ideas,” she explains, “so that’s when co-writing really helps me break out of my headspace that I’m in and start writing and become less precious with the writing.”

A number of other accomplished female writer-instrumentalists with expansive sensibilities emerged just a few years ahead of her — among them Abigail Washburn, Sierra Hull, Aoife O’Donovan, Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins, the last three collectively known as I’m With Her. But Tuttle has had to flesh out for herself what it looks like to do the thing that she alone does: shaping tuneful introspection around her flatpicking abilities on the guitar, a lead instrument that’s still strongly male-identified. (She was the first woman to even be nominated as the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year, and has won the category two years in a row.)

Most of the coverage rightfully focuses on her precise and skillful playing, not her gender. But out in the world, the ghosts of “pretty good for a girl” still linger. Tuttle’s had a few “uncomfortable moments,” she says, like being skipped over in jams when she was younger or encountering teachers who “just didn’t know what to do with having a female guitar student.”

“I think what I mostly get sometimes from people is surprise or, ‘Oh, I feel extra attention on me because I’m a woman playing guitar,’” she says. “People definitely still focus on the fact that I’m a woman, which, in a perfect world I’d like to just be seen as a guitar player, not a woman guitar player.”

On When You’re Ready, Tuttle applies remarkable precision to her pursuit of clarity. That’s even a central theme of her lyrics: consciously reckoning with indecision or intuition, honestly acknowledging incompatibility, cultivating intimacy based on people seeing each other for who they are. With handsomely crafted melodies that gently insinuate themselves into the memory, she wrote some of the 11 songs alone and others in collaboration with kindred spirits like Sarah Siskind, Maya de Vitry and Kai Welch. (Tuttle’s choice of producer, Ryan Hewitt, has worked on rootsy pop projects by The Lumineers and The Avett Brothers, and her cast of guest pickers and vocalists includes Hull, Jason Isbell, Billy Strings, Nat Smith and Butterfly Boucher, all of whom speak to the flexibility she’s cultivating.)

There are moments when Tuttle bends ancient-sounding modal, Appalachian scales to her ideas, like during the slow-burning folk-rocker “Sit Back and Watch It Roll” and “Take the Journey,” a tune percussively propelled by her innovative use of frailing banjo techniques on guitar. She’s made her playing just as much a point of interest as her breathy singing. During the wistful “Make My Mind Up,” she takes liberties with both her vocal and guitar phrasing, singing dreamy curlicues that give way to cascading, bluesy six-string runs. In “Sleepwalking,” which features a cursive, atmospheric string arrangement, she exhales long, lilting lines over her crisp, rolling, arpeggiated guitar pattern.

Tuttle’s quivering, staccato delivery of the winsome hook in “Don’t Let Go” showcases her affinities for folk-pop. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call “Light Came In (Power Went Out)” the album’s power-pop track, thanks to her sly, sticky vocal syncopation over the simple, driving groove. Though she cedes the foreground to an electric guitarist for most of it, her precise acoustic notes burst through during an instrumental vamp, hurtling forward in a startlingly different rhythmic cadence. As with all of Tuttle’s licks, every imaginative note rings clear.

new album ‘When You’re Ready’ out April 5, 2019 on Compass Records

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