Molly Tuttle has followed a rather unusual path to find Americana fame. While growing up in California, she abandoned violin lessons early on in favor of learning to play guitar from her father. After attending bluegrass jams, she decided, at the very advanced age of 11, that she wanted to do more singing and began taking voice lessons. Her interest in songwriting blossomed soon after that. Fast-forward ever so briefly, and the 26-year-old has a shelf full of trophies for both songwriting and performing (including the 2018 Americans Music Award for Instrumentalist of the Year, only the second woman to win the award) and is, just now, releasing her first full-length album, When You’re Ready.
Tuttle’s talent and bright future has drawn a wealth of gifted musicians willing to work with her, and that’s evident from the first track on the album, “Million Miles.” Reminiscent of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Smith’s eventual collaboration on “Because The Night”, Tuttle’s songwriting partner, Steve Poltz, brought her a track that he and Jewel hadn’t been able to finish in the 90s. Tuttle completed the song and enlisted Jason Isbell to sing background and Sierra Hull to play mandolin. The result is a melancholy pop feel not unlike Howie Day’s “Collide”, but at the backend of the relationship – “If you were here /You’d be my lifeboat save me/But you’re a million miles away.” Strings from Rachael Baiman, Mike Barnett and Nat Smith and synth from David Baron add to the polished feel. This could be – SHOULD be – a radio hit.
The rest of When You’re Ready is composed of tunes written/co-written by Tuttle after moving to Nashville in 2015. “Take The Journey”, the first of two songs penned with Sarah Siskind, is a more traditional country/bluegrass mix that breaks down the day-to-day nature of life: “You can try to control the weather/But the rain inside you is still gonna fall” reminds us that failure and doubt are inevitable, but “Take the journey/To see the sun rise again.” Reluctant optimism is Tuttle’s lyrical specialty. “The High Road” (the other Siskind co-write on the album) finds two people splitting off in different directions – “You take the high road/I’ll take my road/Not knowing if we’ll ever meet again.” Neither is right or wrong, and different paths may be the best route for both.
Tuttle is perfectly comfortable straying outside of the country/bluegrass/Americana field. “Sleepwalking” almost feels like a lost Tori Amos Nashville session with prominent piano, quivering vocals and dreamy lyrics: “Keep talking now we’re sleepwalking/Through a world that disappeared.” And “Don’t Let Go” (written with Poltz) has a post-alt feel that wraps in an extended, spacey coda. But her strongest material is found closest to country. “Light Came In (Power Went Out)”, written with Maya Elizabeth de Vitry, Ryan Hewitt and Stephony Smith, is a sweet tale of nekkid shenanigans during a blackout, featuring gorgeous, Dixie Chicks-esque harmonies provided by Aussie import Butterfly Boucher. And “Clue” finds Tuttle emotionally chasing a missing lover: “Somebody told me/You were singing the blues/So hard not to know babe/I’ve been searching the airwaves for you/Just give me a clue.” Supplemented with subtle strings provided by Jonathan Dreyfus, the tune brings the album to its melancholy end.
When You’re Ready was produced, recorded and mixed by Ryan Hewitt in Nashville. Additional songwriters include Kyle Ryan and Kai Welch. Musical assistance was provided by Kris Donegan (electric guitars), Tony Lucido (bass), Jerry Roe (drums), Mike Webb (keys, piano), Glenn Worf (bass), Ed Roth (piano), Kyle Ryan (piano, vocals), Brittany Haas (fiddle) and Billy Strings (vocals).