By Scott McLennan
This cover album is a pretty wild ride, yes, but Molly Tuttle navigates the course with supreme cool.
…But I’d Rather Be With You, Molly Tuttle
Molly Tuttle became the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitarist of the Year award. That was back in 2017, and she garnered that honor again the following year, when she also nabbed the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year award.
So, when Tuttle, 27, announced that she would be releasing an album of cover songs, the assumption was she would be serving up a menu of bluegrass and country music favorites. …But I’d Rather Be With You is not that anticipated album. Instead, it’s a record that uses songs to push Tuttle beyond these expectations — perhaps hers as much as ours.
She takes on alt-rock material by The National and Yeah Yeah Yeahs. Dives into a punk anthem by Rancid. Breathes new life into classic rock fare by the Rolling Stones and Grateful Dead. She bonds with the stylized compositions of Arthur Russell, Karen Dalton, and Yusuf/Cat Stevens. And plugs into the contemporary music landscape via songs by FKA Twigs and Harry Styles.
A pretty wild ride, yes, but Tuttle navigates the course with supreme cool. It’s also a remarkably warm and personal record made in a most COVID conscious, high-tech way. Tuttle worked closely with producer Tony Berg: assembling the tracks various musicians recorded in various parts of the country and mixing them at computer workstations.
We quickly learn that Tuttle’s crystalline voice and impeccable guitar chops are just as suited for the sharper textures of modern rock as they are for high lonesome traditional numbers.It’s a blast hearing Tuttle rock out on Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ “Zero” and Rancid’s “Olympia, WA,” songs she loved when she was in high school and middle school, respectively. Here she doesn’t muck up the raw energy she felt when first hearing these tunes; her major addition is to add some nice touches of breath-taking guitar picking.
And she’s willing to meet songs on their turf rather than drag them to hers. The National’s “Fake Empire” retains the original’s restless discontent, but it sounds fresh with a dose of gentle lyricism, as Tuttle adapts the song’s forceful piano line into a more delicate guitar pattern.
Tuttle’s take on FKA Twigs’ “Mirrored Heart” is devastating and beautiful. It’s the only track that features Tuttle, alone, and she strips the song down to its elemental heartbreak and sorrow. Though sparse, the performance serves as an exhilarating high point on a record designed to show Tuttle’s breadth and depth as an artist.
Arthur Russell is regarded by critics as challenging artist, but Tuttle tames his “A Little Lost,” transforming it into a warm slice of spectral folk-pop: it becomes a vital link in …But I’d Rather Be With You chain of heartbreak songs.
When it comes to the Stones, Tuttle emulates the Brit rockers. She keeps the chamber-pop arrangement of “She’s a Rainbow,” but goes wild fingerpicking the guitar solo. The result is to turn the tune into a celebration of feminine identity in all of its forms.
The album’s title comes from the lyrics of the Grateful Dead’s “Standing on the Moon,” a song Tuttle has made a showstopper in concert. She considers it an ode to her native San Francisco. This country-leaning version of the tune features Dawes’s Taylor Goldsmith sharing vocals, and demonstrates Tuttle’s ability to deliver on a big, healing anthem just as well as she can on the quieter, more personal songs.
…But I’d Rather Be With You was born out of a frustrating time for Tuttle – for all of us really. But in the end this powerful and unique project encouraged her to connect with vital pieces of her musical past, revealing dimensions of an artist that are sure to inspire brilliant new music in the future.
Scott McLennan covered music for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette from 1993 to 2008. He then contributed music reviews and features to the Boston Globe, Providence Journal, Portland Press Herald, and WGBH, as well as to the Arts Fuse. He also operated the NE Metal blog to provide in-depth coverage of the region’s heavy metal scene.