Molly Tuttle is one of the best bluegrass guitarists. She is also much more.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist Molly Tuttle Her fingers move so fast that she could empty your pocket without stopping. Although she’...


Singer, songwriter and guitarist Molly TuttleHer fingers move so fast that she could empty your pocket without stopping. Although she’s only been releasing albums for three years, the finest ears of American music have noticed.

“I never heard Molly Tuttle hit a single note that wasn’t completely sure of herself,” roots guitar master David Rawlings said, half duo by Gillian Welch. “Molly plays with a confidence and control that only the best guitarists ever achieve. If it could be bottled, I’d take two.

Best known as one of bluegrass’ finest guitarists, 29-year-old Tuttle is becoming surprisingly resistant to labels. The first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year award (two years in a row, 2017 and 2018), she considers herself as much a singer as a performer, whose light soprano packs a surprising punch. Nor is she, strictly speaking, a bluegrass musician.

“I think bluegrass is part of what I do,” Tuttle said, settling into a chair in his Manhattan publicist’s office. “I can activate my bluegrass self, but it doesn’t feel like my core identity, it feels more like an outlet for something I’ve been doing and have been doing since I was a kid.”

Tuttle set out to define his own brand of roots pop in two critically acclaimed albums, 2019’s “When You’re Ready” and its 2020 follow-up, “…But I’d Rather Be With You.” While the second LP consists entirely of covers, Tuttle co-wrote every song on “Crooked Tree,” an album released Friday that East very bluegrass. Many of her songs are written not just from a woman’s perspective, but from a feminist’s perspective, making Tuttle an exception in what remains a male-dominated genre.

“I always felt stuck writing bluegrass songs,” she said. “I just don’t relate to a lot of old themes. But something clicked where I was able to write songs that felt true to who I am but still fit into bluegrass.

Tuttle grew up in Palo Alto, California, in a family of musicians. Her father taught guitar for a living and counted his daughter and two younger brothers as valuable students. Grabbing the guitar at age 8, Tuttle soon followed a strict diet (for a 10-year-old): one hour of practice after school, one hour before bedtime.

A musical omnivore, Tuttle dabbled in rock, punk and rap, including punk bands National, Neko Case and Bay Area Operation Ivy and Rancid. (Don’t miss her irresistibly propulsive punkgrass cover of Rancid’s “Olympia WA,” her solo a machine-gun spray of sixteenth notes.) Tuttle played acoustic guitar and banjo in the family bluegrass band, but she plugged in with rock bands. His college music teacher had a large collection of CDs, much of which found its way onto Tuttle’s iPod.

“I remember bringing home a Rage Against the Machine album,” she said, “and going, ‘Whoa! This is amazing!'”

By the age of 18, Tuttle was driving with his father to California bluegrass festivals, reveling in the camaraderie. “It was so cool,” she said, “because nobody in my school knew what bluegrass was.”

The scholarship has only extended so far. At a festival, Tuttle took part in an impromptu jam in which the only musician she didn’t know was the one calling the music. When it was her turn to perform solo, she recalled, “He leaned right in front of me and pointed at the guy next to me, like, ‘You solo.’ He just completely ignored me.

The sexism sting reinforced her: “Today I have my own band, so no one is going to make me feel like this guy did, except me,” she said. “But there are always times,” she added, “where you’re the only female, so they do the song in a male key and you can’t sing along to it. Things like that happen often.

Tuttle has spent her life overcoming another obstacle: alopecia areata, an incurable autoimmune disease she contracted when she was 3 years old that causes partial hair loss or, as in Tuttle’s case , total.

“People thought I had cancer, which made me really embarrassed,” Tuttle recalled. “First my parents gave me hats” – you can see her on a Youtube video, looking under a kind of oversized bell. She switched to wigs at 15, and “it was finally, like, ‘I can relax.'”

Tuttle said those unaffected by alopecia rarely grasp its severity. “People who don’t have alopecia think, ‘Well, it’s just hair,’ or ‘You can wear a wig,'” she said. “It’s a traumatic thing. It’s like losing a part of your body. While today Tuttle said she was comfortable without a wig, she prefers to wear one on stage.” What feels most true to me is embracing the fluidity of, ‘I can wear a wig one day and not wear a wig the next,'” she said.

Learning to live with illness remains a challenge that inspired the new album’s title track, where Tuttle tells the world, “I’d rather be a crooked tree!” Writing and performing “Crooked Tree” – giving it pride of place as the album’s title – is, for Tuttle, an act of acceptance and self-affirmation.

“Growing up with it and being comfortable talking about it helped me overcome a lot of social anxiety — I’m naturally shy; everyone in my family is,” she laughed. “It helped me realize that no matter what other people think, you can be yourself.”

After majoring in guitar performance at Berklee College of Music in Boston – although she said her real tutelage was years of listening closely to singer-songwriter Hazel Dickens (“She defended marginalized people”), guitarists Clarence White and David Grier, and Joni Mitchell — Tuttle has arrived in Nashville.

She worked with mainstream pop producers Ryan Hewitt on her first album and Tony Berg on her second. The two surrounded Tuttle’s vocals and guitar with multi-textured, sometimes overly lush soundscapes.

In February 2021, Tuttle was writing songs for what was to be a third pop album when bluegrass songs started pouring out of her, a return to her comfort zone in anxious times. Putting aside the pop project for now, she invited some of Nashville’s top bluegrass players into the studio and asked dobro master Jerry Douglas, a major force in contemporary bluegrass, to co-produce with her what became ” Crooked Tree”.

The album’s first single, “She’s going to change” co-written with frequent Tuttle collaborator Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show, is an ode to strong women (“Just snaps her little finger/And they all stand in line”) peppered with Tuttle’s jaw-dropping bluegrass tracks .

On other tracks, Tuttle doesn’t hesitate to hijack old themes. “I’ve always loved killer ballads,” she said, “I have a natural love for horror movies and gory, scary stories. But some of the old ballads are really misogynistic. There’s a lot of violence against women. So I changed the perspective to that of a woman. In “The River Knows”, co-written with Melody Walker, it’s the guy who gets hacked to death, for a change ( “Washed the proof out of my hair/Crimson streaming down my skin so fair”).

“I will always want to go back to bluegrass,” Tuttle said, even as she plays with musical conventions on the new album. “It’s become such a loose term, anyway. Today, everyone listens to everything and blurs things together.

The genre today is indeed quite different from that of its founder, Bill Monroe. “If Bill came to a bluegrass festival today,” said fiddler-turned-fiddler and composer Mark O’Connor, another lifelong frontier, “he’d barely recognize the genre he helped create.”

“That said,” O’Connor added, “if Bill Monroe was here today, he’d hire Molly Tuttle for his Blue Grass Boys. Because she can sing the lonesome high and drive that beat on the flattop guitar. But then Bill would have to consider a name change for the band.

Sitting in Manhattan, Tuttle considered the options: “The Blue Grass Persons?” she suggested.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Molly Tuttle is one of the best bluegrass guitarists. She is also much more.
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