Molly Tuttle’s free-range right hand is revolutionizing bluegrass guitar. On her newest release, Crooked Tree, she displays everything from deft clawhammer-style guitar playing to high-speed syncopation from the Clarence White canon to buoyant cross-picking with the creative freedom and efficiency of David Grier—all delivered with great taste and musical aplomb.
Lend an ear to “Castilleja,” a Western bandit tale co-written by Tuttle and Ketch Secor that fords the same muddy rivers as the great Peter Rowan epic “Land of the Navajo.” Or dive deeply into her riotous clawhammer guitar on “The River Knows,” which adds another percussive voice on acoustic guitar evoking Michael Hedges’ or Kaki King’s groundbreaking work.
“Nashville Mess Around” shows her impressive vocal skills, as Tuttle yodels high into Dolly Parton’s angel band range. “Dooley’s Farm”—an update of the Dillards’ “Dooley,” a tale of an Ozark farmer turned moonshiner—is a socially conscious, pro-cannabis modern classic that suits featured guest Billy Strings just fine. “He’s got a strain that’ll punch your lights out/Old Dooley’s gonna blow your mind,” Tuttle sings as she and Strings elevate flatpicking guitar in the modern age.
Crooked Tree could become, like Tony Rice’s 1983 Church Street Blues was for his generation, a touchstone for bluegrass guitarists of this era. And acoustic players of all strains should be watching with keen excitement where Molly Tuttle’s musical tree will branch off next and what’s going to flower from it.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Acoustic Guitar magazine.