Bluegrass generations seem to fly by as rapidly as grandchildren grow up. Bill Monroe was still anchoring the stage with some future of his own to go when Futureman was firing up his percussive space machine behind Bela Fleck. Gillian Welch, once the newly turned leaf of the neo-traditional movement, turns 50 in a few days. And one of her proteges, 24-year-old Molly Tuttle, has a new EP called (appropriately) Rise.
Drawing inspiration from Welch, Hazel Dickens, Laurie Lewis and the singer-songwriters of the 60s, Tuttle has assembled a program of seven well-crafted original numbers. Her Krauss-like voice is winsome and high, with a feathery tremolo. Her touch on the guitar is similarly light, but she picks with enough authority, creativity and skill to make her own David Rawlings unnecessary. I emphasize: this young woman has SERIOUS chops on guitar!
Tuttle’s songs deal with lessons of love (“Good Enough”), lonesome songs of parting (“You Didn’t Call My Name”) and the minorish desperation of “Save This Heart,” which features a touch of high-wire slide guitar. “Lightning in a Jar” expresses feelings of pure girlish infatuation, while “Friend and a Friend” strays from romantic themes to address the chain of supportive relationships an up-and-coming musician needs to survive years on the road. “Got a big dream and a worn out D18,” Tuttle sings, as she evokes the “empty coffee cups rolling back and forth inside the van.”
“Lightening In A Jar”
“Walden,” which provides the album’s title, Rise, delves into issues of the human spirit and environmental destruction, evoking the rising of the human spirit simultaneous to the rising of the oceans due to global warming. The song opens with the haunting staccato chords of a banjo, expressing the beauty and heartbreak of human civilization and the narrowing natural world that transcendentalist Thoreau explored at his pond in Concord.
As moving as “Walden” is, my favorite song on the EP may be “Super Moon,” a driving modal instrumental where Tuttle’s rippling minorish riffs compete with a wildly percussive Celtic background of crashing cymbals and drums. The instrumentation throughout the album is as well thought out and carefully crafted as chamber music. I would expect as much when Tuttle plays live, and you in the Hudson Valley will have the privilege of catching this rising super nova of Americana on Friday, November 17th at the Unitarian Fellowship in Poughkeepsie, NY.