When You’re Ready
Looking for the next Alison Krauss? Molly Tuttle has been hiding in plain sight. She’s not a fiddle player, but to say that Molly Tuttle plays the guitar well is a bit like saying Van Gogh painted a little. She’s the only woman to have been named Guitarist of the Year by the International Blue Music Association and, for heaven’s sake, she’s just turned 26. It staggers to imagine what she will go on to accomplish.
I was floored to find that, though Tuttle released an EP in 2017, When You’re Ready is Tuttle’s debut full-length album. Recall can get hazy when you’ve been listening to an artist since she was in her teens. I’ve seen Tuttle three times, but now that this California native is making her mark in Nashville, it’s probably going to cost more to see her. It will worth every damn penny! The title track alone sounds like a better single than you’ll ever hear on commercial radio, but it’s just one of 11 stunning tracks Tuttle wrote or cowrote. Tuttle has said that Townes Van Zandt was a huge influence on her songwriting, and you can’t do much better in picking a musical role model.
Let’s start with the guitar. Tuttle’s the mistress of flat-picking, but lately she’s added more firepower to her fretted arsenal. Watch this clip of ‘Take the Journey’ (below). If you’re wondering what she’s doing, she has transposed claw hammer banjo to guitar. You probably shouldn’t try this at home! “Light Came In (Power Went Out)” is another string burner, one whose love-in-the-dark sparks could illumine a village. On the slower-paced “Sit Back and Watch It Roll,” Tuttle’s guitar creates a meditative groove.
My Alison Krauss comparison is most evident in Tuttle’s voice. I intend no disrespect toward Ms. Krauss, but Tuttle’s a better vocalist. Call it all of the sweetness, but far more powerful and clarity. On “High Road” Tuttle lays down quiet licks appropriate for a tale of two people going in opposite directions. Listen as she soars and then drops back into heartache terrain. She repeats that feel in “Sleepwalking,” which is like a small bird taking flight into a dream-gauzed sky. “Million Miles” is tender and vulnerable, as befits a song about needing to be in that special place with a certain someone who is far away.
This amazing album is supplemented by guest artists such as Nat Smith (Cello), Sierra Hull (cello), Jason Isbell (backing vocals), and Rachel Baiman and Mike Barnett (fiddles). If I had to nitpick a single concern, it lies in splashes of overproduction. Kris Donegan adds electric guitar on several tracks, but it’s simply overkill, especially on “Make My Mind Up.” I’ve heard Tuttle sing this song and she doesn’t need any help. But let me assure you that this is indeed a trivial point on my part. This is easily the best record I’ve heard in 2019 and, as you’ll see from some of the clips linked in the review, what you hear is genuine, not a bunch of studio tricks. Molly Tuttle is more than ready; she has arrived.