Album Review: Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway, ‘Crooked Tree’
Crooked Tree is the album Molly Tuttle was born to make.
Tuttle’s never-waste-a-note guitar picking propels this collection of instant bluegrass classics that careen lickety-split around the hills and valleys of high lonesome ballads and backwoods tales of mystery and murder. A bluegrass festival on a single album, Crooked Tree shimmers and shines with transporting harmonies, lilting fiddles, thrumming banjos, crystalline mandolins, scampering dobros, and driving guitars.
Golden Highway is Bronwyn Keith-Hynes on fiddle, Dominick Leslie on mandolin, Shelby Means on bass, and Kyle Tuttle on banjo. They’re joined by other musicians including Old Crow Medicine Show, Margo Price, Jerry Douglas (who co-produced the album with Tuttle), Sierra Hull, Billy Strings, Dan Tyminski, Gillian Welch, Darol Anger on fiddle, Ron Block on banjo, Mike Bub on upright bass, Jason Carter on fiddle, Viktor Krauss on upright bass, Todd Phillips on upright bass, and Christian Sedelmyer on fiddle. Tina Adair, Lindsay Lou, and Melody Walker provide additional harmony vocals.
“Nashville Mess Around” scurries and darts around a sawdust floor in a good old-fashioned hoedown, replete with Tuttle’s yodeling on the last line of each refrain. The song gives every musician a chance to stretch out. The song pokes fun, too, at the Nashville tourists who flock to Music City ready to party without giving a thought to the rich musical heritage of the city.
A mournful fiddle opens “San Francisco Blues,” a waltz that luxuriously unfolds with twinkling notes of guitar and fiddle wrapping under and around each other. The album opens with the flat-out, driving rambler, “She’ll Change,” a little gem of musical perfection that showcases Tuttle’s fret-blazing precision and clarity on the instrumental bridge, while Margo Price joins Tuttle on the rousing and rollicking “Flatland Girl.”
Billy Strings joins Tuttle on the backwoods ballad “Dooley’s Farm,” a minor-chord tale of moonshine and mystery and the “something better in the back of the barn/down on Dooley’s farm.” Strings and Tuttle are two of the very best guitarists playing today, and this song showcases their immense skills, as Douglas winds his unfurling dobro riffs around their guitars.
The highlight of the album may be the joyous “Big Backyard,” an invitation to frolic and romp in the “backyard” that belongs to all of us; Old Crow Medicine Show rolls in their festive vocals, accordion, and fiddles, creating immediately a warm openness and festiveness that puts a smile on our faces and gets our feet dancing at the song’s first note.
Every song on Crooked Tree shines brightly with the clear-eyed vision of Tuttle’s songwriting; there’s not one bad song on the album, and we’re dancing, twirling, ruminating, laughing, or hugging our friends as we listen. Crooked Tree may be the best album of the year so far; the musicianship and songwriting on the album stand without parallel.
Crooked Tree is available HERE.
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