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With Tuttle, the music's in good hands

Boothbay Opera House, Boothbay Harbor, Maine, July 13, 2018

Reviewed by Fred Frawley

Molly Tuttle, preternaturally talented artist and current reigning IBMA Guitar Player of The Year (2017) lives up to the hype. Her songs are well-crafted and soulfully delivered.

Boothbay Harbor Maine is a typical seaside resort town (perhaps slightly more upscale than most), which is somnolent, if not downright dead, 8 1/2 months of the year. Two months in the Fall allow it to come to grips with the impending season. That leaves six weeks where Boothbay is filled with people who employ "summer' as a verb. Boothbay is not a hotbed of bluegrass music.

When queried by Tuttle, the ample crowd appeared to have no recognition of the Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival, perhaps the singular East Coast event on the bluegrass calendar for the last 20 years.

No matter. Tuttle and her bandmates came to play; two sets, matter of fact. By the end of the evening, Tuttle had the crowd singing along with Neil Young's "Helpless" to close the show.

Tuttle is an outstanding picker and displayed some clawhammer guitar as well. The music drew heavily from her exemplary EP "Rise," released in 2017. Tuttle is justifiably confident in her playing, underscoring that assurance by surrounding herself with a fine three-piece backing band.

Wes Corbett (of the late, lamented Joy Kills Sorrow) played with wit and liveliness, throwing in fills and breaks at will. The band lacked a mandolin, but Corbett filled that void with mando-like figures from time to time. Max Johnson laid down a strong bass line; he was sneaky-smooth throughout. Duncan Wickle, a fine fiddle player from Asheville, N.C., rounded out the ensemble.

Tuttle speaks the language of bluegrass and traditional music. Selections from "Rise" were interspersed with works by John Hartford, The Stanley Brothers and, not least, The Johnson Mountain Boys. Whatever the idiom, Tuttle plays and sings assuredly with an authentic voice that delivers the message that traditional music is in good hands for years to come.

The opener was Brian Dunne, a New York singer-songwriter with a local following. Dunne got caught in traffic and entered the venue at 7:27 p.m. for the 7:30 show. It was a tough spot for him, but his energy and material overcame it.