Not long ago, we were listening to Molly Tuttle on small, independent labels and now, less than four years later she is making her debut on the prestigious Nonesuch label with "Crooked Tree." Tuttle, a graduate of Berklee College of Music and brilliant multi-award-winning finger picking guitarist, straddled the line between bluegrass and Americana in her 2019 "When You're Ready" and on an album of rock, pop and country covers in 2020. To date, she's tried to veer from pure bluegrass but with this major label debut, she steps fully into it, having lineage to it from her father and grandfather.
Tuttle formed her band, Golden Highway, and co-produced with Jerry Douglas, who leaves his distinctive imprint on these tunes recorded live in the studio. They add an honor roll of guests for an even higher profile, including Sierra Hull, Old Crow Medicine Show, Margo Price, Billy Strings, Dan Tyminski and Gillian Welch.
Tuttle wrote or co-wrote all 13 tunes, beginning with the rousing "She'll Change," featuring her new minted talents Golden Highway band rapid picking on guitar, banjo and mandolin. Price steps in for the fiddle-imbued "Flatland Girl" while kindred spirit Billy Strings joins her for a fiery guitar exchange in the mid-tempo "Dooley's Farm." The upbeat, aptly named "Big Backyard" has multiple instruments and voices, courtesy of Old Crow Medicine Show.
From there, we have three consecutive guest-free tracks including the title track uplifting title track for those struggling to fit in, featuring Golden Highway - Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Shelby Means (bass) and Kyle Tuttle (banjo). The briskly paced "Castiglia" and the yearning waltz "San Francisco Blues" (featuring Tyminski on harmony) and the airy closer "Grass Valley" reminisce on her native California. The former has one of the strongest melodies while the other two along with "The River Knows" are about as pensive as bluegrass gets.
"Over the Line," features the irrepressible mandolinist, songwriter, vocalist Hull, and Tuttle confesses to a bit of intimidation sharing the vocals with her favorite singer, Welch, on "Side Saddle," where she injects western swing flourishes much the way she painted "Nashville Mess Around' with a touch of twang. Tuttle manages to deftly navigate a steep challenge – staying true to tradition while giving it a contemporary facelift for her strong songwriting to shine through.