new music to Sidetracks & Detours.
by Norman Warwick
Not for nothing did Molly Tuttle win instrumentalist of the year at the 2018 Americana awards, and guitarist of the year at the International Bluegrass Awards of the year before (the first woman to receive the latter honour, and at age 24 besides). Being brought up in her family band, the Tuttles, (left) under the expert supervision of her Dad, Jack, a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist and tutor himself, probably helped, but it was as she cut loose that the began to make her own name. Like several artists we have previously mentioned on these pages, Molly crowd-funded her debut recording, the EP Rise, which enable the Compass recording company pick her up, re-releasing Rise and her subsequent full length debut When You’re Ready, which was released last year.
The fact that guest vocals were provided by Jason Isbell, another frequent name to appear in Sidetracks & Detours gives an idea of the weight her name carries in music circles.
It is perhaps surprising, then that she would she has so quickly followed up these largely self-written (or co-written) projects with a covers album? It seems that this quite sudden follow up is a reaction to the effects of both of the coronavirus lockdown and the early March tornado that devastated her adopted hometown of North Nashville.
Seeking inspiration in the absence of any live outlet, she began to revisit the records of her youth. Teaching herself pro-tools, she laid down some tracks, sending them to producer Tony Berg, who sent them on to various other musicians for them to flesh out, all working separately and remotely. Not that you can tell.
However, this new recording, but i’d rather be with you, is certainly not luke-warm offering of staple-diet country and bluegrass standards. Her inspirations range widely among artists as diverse as Rancid and FKA Twigs, embracing also the Rolling Stones, Harry Styles (!) and the National. The only nod to her received tradition comes from the songbook of Karen Dalton, who herself took regular Sidetracks & Detours off the Nashville freeway. Neither is it an album full of those see- ´em-coming-from-a-mile-off solo instrumental breaks that whack you across the back of the head until you submit.
…but i’d rather be with you kicks off with Cincinnati favorites, the National. Their track, Fake Empire said one reviewers, ´might seem impossible to transcribe from piano to guitar´ with the time signature surely impossible to reconcile. Nevertheless, deceptively simple in melody, the original is carried by Matt Berninger’s lugubrious vocal, further upping the ante, even if discounting the driving drum pattern as it builds to a polysonorous climax.´
Blimey, best leave that alone Molly ! But Tuttle nails it, multi-tracking herself over a bed of her guitar, and what sounds like a cello and some drones of electric guitar and effects. If creating a great cover album is any kind of fight then Tuttle certainly wins round one.
She admits to having only little real knowledge of Mick, Keef and the boys, that being no barrier to her giving She’s A Rainbow a good kicking, which, if not world-changing, ought to get her a radio play or two, demonstrating her nifty picking in a glorious instrumental bridge.
But if the Stones were her dad’s era, Arthur Russell is surely her near contemporary. Tuttle transforms one of the late disco cellist’s quieter and more stately moments, finding the tune and beauty in A Little Lost that has been staring us in the face. This is a beautiful production a string quartet circling around her guitar, voice and the addition of the drums that were absent in the original. Amazing
It was the much misunderstood real cowboy singer that was Hank Wangford who turned me on to Karen Dalton, more than thirty years ago in an interview for a very early edition of Sidetracks & Detours (then two separate magazines). He explained to me that Karen operated on the fringes of the industry, a little too much spit n’ gravel – soul, even – in her voice for the folk-blues territory she covered. Now she’s seen as a fore-runner of Lucinda Williams.
Tuttle makes a sweeter Something On Your Mind, how could she not with the timbre of her voice, and if that points any listener toward the source, so the worth of the exercise.
The next couple of tracks work ok for me, but to be honest, I have no point of reference from which to draw comparisons from.
I am not sufficiently, if at all, aware of FKA Twigs’ Mirrored Heart, but even a far more knowledgeable reviewer admits this cover shows shows his age.
He is forced to take a first listen of the original, ahead of, again, like the Russell song, appreciating Tuttle’s alchemy. Fans of Ms. Twigs will probably loathe this dilution of intent, but the reviewer thinks it lovely.
He is slightly disquieted at this stage and begins his review of the next track with a Disclaimer alert. Rancid, FFS? I could never stomach the faux Clash-lite of these California copyists, he complains, but then again, he admits he wasn’t raised in San Fran during their heyday. Tuttle was. The reviewer says ´the quiet 1,2,3,4 intro apart, it doesn’t quite work, sounding too Eagles/Linda Ronstadty for these ears, which surely wasn’t something Messrs Armstrong et al would ever expect to hear their work described as.´
Much as I really like his style of journalism and his expertise, he must know how little merit there is in accusing a cover version of being too different from its original, and he only has to look at some of his earlier remarks in this article, to remind himself of that. More to the point to most of my generation The Eagles and Linda Rondstadt sounds were perfectly acceptable for a while, though I did eventually tire of The Eagles´ constant preening.
First false step, suggests our reviewer, but given that it took until track six to see any slight stumble, let’s give Molly Tuttle a pass. The track will likely sell oodles as a single, he admits, grudgingly, asking with some self-deprecation, so what do I know?
The next track recovers the mood, though, as Standing On The Moon is from The Grateful Dead (one from her Dad’s collection, but I’ll bet, she does not name and shame dad as deadhead on the sleeve notes). Tuttle the alchemist takes this generic and graceful Garcia/Hunter ballad and, in John Stewart´s line, she´s ´turning music into gold´, adding sinewy steel to an otherwise fairly straight rendition. With a song this good, there is little else needed, and she is aware enough to recognise just how little to add or subtract, and allows only the later entry of a keyboard to attach additional ethereality.
Beloved of the 16-year-old Tuttle, “Zero” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs, suggests a whole different potential direction available, had she wanted edgy over eloquent, her image and that of Karen O now seeming to have little crossover. But apparently this is a song her band have performed as a live cover for some time.
One reviewer seems to head to the bar here, allowing his silent departure from the song to speak volumes. He seems to be back outside his comfort zone. Harry Styles, (right) formerly of One Direction, writer of the next track to be covered by Tuttle, ´despite the good reviews, is still, to me, an annoying talent show boy-bander,´he says. So can she open his ears? Sunflower, No. 6 starts nicely enough, but the song remains insufficiently strong to catch his soul. When he listens again to the original, though, he can’t help feeling that Molly Tuttle has worked a small miracle…….
I was converted to Cat Stevens´ music towards the end of the seventies. I was in a minority of one in the three man line up of Lendanear that was Colin Lever, my song-writing partner, and Pete Benbow our guitarist. Colin could deliver a stunning cover of The First Cut Is The Deepest and Pete´s regular offering of The Boy With The Moon And Stars sent me to explore the whole notion of myth and legend. Nevertheless, a decade or so earlier I had hated Stevens´ I Love My Dog with the same disdain which our reviewer obviously (once?) felt for Harry Styles.
However, he tells us he was a young teen when Cat Stevens’ How Can I Tell You came out, a song that routinely had him in tears, despite having no-one even to tell, so how Tuttle did this was always going to be a test case. He explains that she does so by associating the title phrase with not saying goodbye to her dog before that final trip to the vet, which had the reviewer smiling.
´This is another,´ he says, ´where she embellishes little beyond a defter hand on the guitar and a little wobble toward warble, the string arrangement even a mirror of the original. Some dust even found a way into my eye. A fine closer.´
…but i’d rather be with you is altogether a successful and satisfactory album, melding the old and the newer material to both interest the old and the new listener– or, more to the point, the older and younger listener. In the UK, artists in this field are doomed perpetually to be younger than their audience.
I’m uncertain as to whether the same is true in her homeland (I hope not), but I wonder if this choice of songs will help attract some younger blood to the genre. Me, I’m off to listen to Rancid’s Greatest Hits with ears anew.
…but i’d rather be with you Tracklisting:
Fake Empire (The National cover)
She’s a Rainbow (Rolling Stones cover)
A Little Lost (Arthur Russell cover)
Something on Your Mind (Karen Dalton cover)
Mirrored Heart (FKA Twigs cover)
Olympia, WA (Rancid cover)
Standing on the Moon (Grateful Dead cover)
Zero (Yeah Yeah Yeahs cover)
Sunflower, Vol. 6 (Harry Styles cover)
How Can I Tell You (Cat Stevens cover)
Steve Horowitz, writing on line on 24th August 2020 on line at
referred to but I´d rather be with you by Molly Tuttle as her ´new stunning cover LP.´ He opens his review by telling us how Molly Tuttle taught herself to use Pro-recording Tools during lockdown and that enabled her to record and engineer ten much-loved songs whilst stuck at home alone.
The resultant album, …but I´d rather be with you, he says, reminds us that there’s something comforting about the sound of familiar music. ´No matter how dark the outside world may seem, we can huddle in our rooms by ourselves and play our favourite songs for consolation and reassurance.´
Steve is another reviewer who thinks Molly Tuttle has taken this process a step further.
She sent her final recordings to producer Tony Berg in Los Angeles, who employed session musicians to fill in the parts from their home studios. The result, …but I’d rather be with you is a lovely, low-key, intimate affair.
As we have already heard, Tuttle chose a wide range of sources, including one track each from the National, the Rolling Stones, Arthur Russell, Karen Dalton, FKA Twigs, Rancid, Grateful Dead, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Harry Styles, and Cat Stevens.
´She approaches the material without pretension,´ Horowitz opines. Tuttle keeps the arrangements simple and uncluttered. She is a world-class artist who was the first woman to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year award (which she has won twice) as well as being named the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year in 2018. I would absolutely agree with his assertion that Tuttle plays flawlessly here without ever showing off.
The same thing is true for her voice.
´She lets it sparkle and shine when the song calls for it,´ Horowitz says, ´such as on her version of the Stones’ semi-psychedelic She’s A Rainbow and tones things down on Styles’ more introspective Sunflower Vol. 6. Berg’s production puts Tuttle’s sweet-sounding vocals in the forefront, which makes it sound as if she is singing just for you.´
He goes on to tell us that is particularly true of the more straightforward love songs. Tuttle turns Arthur Russell’s worshipful A Little Lost into an epiphany of good feelings that make one giddy at the thought of a kiss. Her tender rendition of Steven’s How Can I Tell You makes the song’s declaratory excesses into honest endearments of affection. These songs can break your heart into bloom.
Like any list of personal favourites, Tuttle’s list is esoteric and reveals the pleasures of having catholic tastes. Her affection for these songs is evidenced by the passion with which she delivers them..
Horowitz reminds us that Tuttle compares and contrasts social comment from the past, via The Grateful Dead’s Standing on the Moon, and the present via the National’s Fake Empire. Tuttle’s approach, he says, brings the songs together in the spirit of something larger than a just-the-facts approach.´
photo 8 Most musicians need to perform live to earn a living. That has been taken away recently yet artists like Tuttle have somehow managed to find ways to stay creative and provide solace for their audiences.
´Yes, we’d rather be with Tuttle in person,´ admits Horowitz, ´but this disc offers a pleasurable substitute until the real thing comes around again.´
My own love of music suffered a considerable set-back in 2015 when the thousands in my cd collection we had in storage waiting to be shipped over to our new home on Lanzarote were dragged out of their storage place by the raging waters of the North West UK, eventually to be tossed in the tempest that was the River Roch.
The demands of a completely new life-style in a a new land didn´t afford me the time to recollect my old music nor the facilities to hear much new music in those genres I loved. We have really enjoyed scores of classical concerts over here, and the folk-lore music, live and recorded, is heavenly but radio coverage of my kind of mnsic is remote for a man so lacking in technological skills that ordering goods from musical suppliers and finding channels on the internet, prove difficult. And, of course, I have a long blog to write every day to meet the insatiable demands of my global audience that stretches from Ashby to de la Zouch.
I have learned, though, to use the web to research articles and in so doing I have come across really good sites like these listed today and in other recent articles. Such sites are gradually resurrecting my love and awareness of music to a contemporary level,….just at a time when artists are beginning, under lockdown, to find comfort in the music of my generation.
Finding the music of Molly Tuttle recently was so exciting that I began a phone conversation with my son Andrew in South Korea with one of those ridiculous sentences I often use, of ´I´ve found a fantastic new girl singer and writer and player that no one has heard of yet and she´s going to be massive. It´s Americana, son. It’s the real thing !´
In that infuriating way he has of reminding me that his own music collection is as wide, as catholic but these days, too, more up to date than mine he simply confirmed my view.
´Yeh, you´ll enjoy her stuff dad. I listen to her a lot because of the way she plays the banjo, and I´m trying to adapt her style to my own playing. I do some of her repertoire.´
¨Right, good,´ replies his somewhat miffed dad. ´I´ll put you on to your mum.´
Wary though I am to direct my readers to sites more established and commercially aware than is ours, surely the purpose of Sidetracks & Detours is to direct those of you who love to follow your art.
This article has, therefore, been delivered after a bit (a lot) of cut and paste from Will Hodgkinson, writing for The Times at
We also looked at Metacritic which, like us, gathers reviews from as wide a range of sources as possible.
We also ´discovered´ covermesongs, a site we will return to many times over the next few months, I´m sure.