When You’re Ready
It’s rare when an artist can win Americana Instrumentalist of the Year without having released a full length album, but such is the case with flat-picking guitar phenom and singer-songwriter Molly Tuttle who now debuts with When You’re Ready. Blessed with a crystalline, honest voice and boundless instrumental talent, the 26-year-old is just getting to the launching pad with a reputation that already allows her to tap producer Ryan Hewitt (The Avett Brothers, The Lumineers) to showcase her range and versatility.
Tuttle is already a bluegrass star and some of that influence is here but mostly she straddles that genre with folk, pop, and even some electric rock n’ roll. She wrote two of these songs with the esteemed writer Steve Poltz, has Jason Isbell on background vocals on one tune, Sierra Hull on mandolin and such Nashville stalwarts as Jerry Roe on drums and Glen Worf on bass, part of the team that Hewitt brought in as the “house band.” Her many accolades leading up to this release, could be foreshadowing a breakout year. She won Folk Alliance International’s Song of the Year for “You Didn’t Call My Name” and won the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year twice now ( the first woman in the history of the IBMA to win that honor).
Here she wanted to make an “interesting guitar record” and hence you’ll hear drums, electric guitars and keyboards in the mix on several tracks. She wrote or co-wrote all eleven songs since moving to Nashville from her native California where her dad, an accomplished musician and educator, had her performing at festivals at an early age with him and her two brothers. After graduating from high school in Palo Alto, she attended the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where she studied in the American Roots Program, focusing on guitar performance and songwriting.
The album opens with the Poltz co-penned “Million Miles” (note Tuttle was the co-writer on two of the songs on Poltz’s recently issued Shine On so he returns the favor here). Poltz claims that he started to write this song when he and Jewel were working together in ‘90s and didn’t complete it. With blessing from both, Tuttle finished the song and recruited Hull on mandolin and Isbell on background vocals. It sets the tone for the cohesive effort that features several personal tunes but generally an upbeat vibe throughout. “Take the Journey” provides encouragement while “The High Road” has a couple splitting up. The spacey, subdued “Don’t Let Go” segues into a poppy, energetic “Lights Came On (Power Went Out).” There are some unexpected touches along the way like the use of synths for that haunting sound in “Messed With My Mind.”
“Sleepwalking,” a tender love song, is deceptively intense, amplified by a three-piece string section, piano, and synths as well, with these memorable lyrics – “Keep talking now we’re sleep walking/Through a world that disappeared/Bad habits burn like TV static/But you’re coming in clear.” “Sit Back and Let It Roll” flirts with rock n’ roll as Tuttle is surrounded by electric guitars, Hammond B3, fretless electric bass, and Sierra Hull on octave mandolin. The closing “Clue,” perhaps more than any tune, showcases the ethereal beauty of her vocals.
Tuttle talks about the album as “feels like more of a collaboration with new people I’ve met since moving to Nashville” and as an inspiration to the next generation. She says, “especially young girls, to play guitar. I think if girls see a woman doing something, it helps them think, ‘I can do that too.’” To her credit, Tuttle keeps the focus on the songs here, choosing to solo rarely and economically when she does. It’s as if the album title is posing the question of readiness – is the music world prepared for her boundless talents? Tuttle’s guitar chops, writing, and superb vocal chops have her primed well for major takeoff.
- Jim Hynes