Folks in the bluegrass world have been watching Molly Tuttle’s star rise since long before her Grammy-winning 2022 album, Crooked Tree, has added even more momentum to the award-winning flatpicker’s career. Though we first crossed paths much earlier, we spoke to Tuttle initially in 2017 for an edition of Deep Sh!t that put her and guitarist James Elkington on the phone together. Even then, Elkington went out of his way to laud Tuttle’s playing, placing it on the same level as his own. (Tuttle, in a turn of mutual admiration, praised Elkington’s picking above hers, of course.)
This is a consistent phenomenon in musicians, songwriters, producers, and instrumentalists who encounter Tuttle’s work: They are all astounded by it; They all feel and hear genius within it. Tuttle is sometimes – no, often – your favorite musician’s favorite musician. Certainly your favorite musician’s favorite flatpicker.
At numerous points over the years since that first interview, the BGS team has latched onto songs and recordings by Tuttle. We’ve had the privilege of inviting her to join BGS lineups and stages and we’ve published more than a handful of interviews, as well, watching and documenting a career and creative output that continue to enjoy rapid-yet-meaningful growth. From our earliest premiere of “Good Enough” all the way to anchoring a BGS Cover Story, as Tuttle has advanced through the music industry, we’ve watched and written about those changes and the distance she’s traveled.
It’s fitting, then, as Tuttle and her band, Golden Highway, ready a second album on the heels of the wildly successful Crooked Tree, that they should at last be named BGS Artist of the Month. We know listeners and fans, whether brand new or veteran, will understand and appreciate how much pleasure and joy we have gained over the years from Tuttle’s songs, her creative vision, her passion, and perhaps above all, her fiery picking. It makes naming Tuttle our Artist of the Month that much more gratifying, highlighting the real reason we make BGS in the first place: our community.
After having a star-studded roster on Crooked Tree helmed by producer (and guest artist) Jerry Douglas, Tuttle has focused her vision slightly for City of Gold, which releases July 21 on Nonesuch Records. Douglas returns as co-producer. The new album, like the former, drips with the imagery, mythos, and mystique of California, drawing on West Coast influences like the Grateful Dead, Laurie Lewis, Kathy Kallick, and folk revival, troubadour singer-songwriters. But, instead of a rotating cast of characters and besides a stout handful of featured artists, this record centers Tuttle and her full-time road band, Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle), Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Shelby Means (bass), and Kyle Tuttle (banjo).
This lineup and the material of the Golden Highway era all seemingly mock the rare critics and naysayers of Tuttle’s music, who, especially in the earliest days of her career, could sometimes be heard describing her songs and singing as toothless or lacking energy or grit. At their sold out theater and club headline shows or in front of thousands at music festivals, Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway’s performances are jaw-dropping, electric (literally and figuratively), and enormous – fully realized. It’s jamgrass without valorizing toxic masculinity; it’s “MASH,” but with taste; it’s a shredfest, but it’s also emotive and vulnerable and theatrical.
That Tuttle’s found her stride while “returning” to bluegrass – whether intentionally, subconsciously, or merely as a framing and narrative device – is striking and impressive. There are many songs, stages, and Artist of the Month features yet to be conquered down the Golden Highway.
Watch for a special Artist of the Month episode of Basic Folk later in July featuring Tuttle as well as an interview with her band, Golden Highway. For now, enjoy our Essential Molly Tuttle Playlist.
Photo Credit: Chelsea Rochelle