Album of the Week: Crooked Tree by Molly Tuttle
The final track of bluegrass picker Molly Tuttle’s new albumCrooked Tree tells the story of Tuttle growing up playing tunes around the campfire at the bluegrass fests she attended as a kid. That song, “Grass Valley”, harnesses the spirit of collaboration, shared creativity, and making something beautiful together that anyone who has been up late (or early) playing around the fire can relate to. That feeling winds its way through all 13 tracks of Tuttle’s new album Crooked Tree, the KAXE/KBXE Album of the Week for April 8th.
There are familiar themes in Crooked Tree that Bluegrass and Country listeners will pick up on and appreciate. There is a strong sense of place in this album (check out “Flatland Girl” for Tuttle’s postcard to her hometown). Tuttle has plenty to say about want and desire, and good love gone bad (“The River Knows” is a revenge song that you won’t soon forget). On “Big Backyard”, OCMS and Tuttle paint a bluesy landscape of a world that might be possible, with a distinct Woodie Guthrie message.
But Crooked Tree also pushes common themes into new territory. “Side Saddle” is a cowboy ditty about finding herself and fitting into a world dominated by men and traditional gender roles. Crooked Tree, like the best progressive music of any genre, is firmly rooted the traditions of Bluegrass and Country, but tells its stories in a new and exciting way.
Tuttle called upon plenty of friends for Crooked Tree, including luminaries of Bluegrass and Country like Old Crow Medicine Show, Gillian Welch, Margo Price, Billy Strings, Sierra Hull, and Dan Tyminski, and each collaborator brings their own flair to the track. On “Over the Line” Hull and Tuttle, two of the most exciting players in bluegrass, combine their blistering picking to create a new kind of love song. On “Dooley’s Farm” Billy Strings brings his incomparable guitar playing and love of herbal horticulture to a track that tells the story of the next-generation of outlaw Dooleys.
But Crooked Tree doesn’t solely rely on friends; Tuttle’s song writing and guitar playing stands on its own. She was recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Awards as the “Guitar Player of the Year” in 2017, the first women ever to win the award. For an encore, she won it again the following year. Tuttle has been playing professionally from a young age and has a growing discography of her work as support musician, band member, and with Crooked Tree, four full-length albums of solo work.
Last week, Bela Fleck won “Best Bluegrass Album” at the Grammys for his amazing My Bluegrass Heart. Tuttle was a featured artist on that album on the track “Hug Point”. I imagine that this time next year, we’ll see Molly Tuttle’s Crooked Tree garnering some votes of her own and might just add a new award to her burgeoning shelf.