Molly Tuttle | …but I’d rather be with you | (Compass)
4 out of 5 stars
Videos by American Songwriter
One of the first “quarantine” recordings by a major Americana artist shows how this “new normal” atmosphere can work. Singer/songwriter Molly Tuttle crafted a set of ten eclectic covers as a stopgap while working on her next release. But there is nothing casual or spontaneous about it.
As the title (taken from the Grateful Dead’s “Standing on the Moon”) implies, this isn’t the way Tuttle would prefer to create her music. But the somewhat convoluted process of recording alone in her home with Pro Tools, then sending those files to producer Tony Berg in LA who in turn forwarded them to other musicians to add their parts, works surprisingly well. While Tuttle would rather interact face to face with her backing band, few listening to these professionally recorded tracks will be able to tell that’s not how the process went down.
Musically, Tuttle displays particularly diverse influences that run from the fairly obvious like Cat Stevens (a lovey, string quartet enhanced “How Can I Tell You”) to the unlikely (FKA Twigs’ heavily electronic “Mirrored Heart” gets a smoky, rootsy, and extremely touching acoustic makeover) and even the improbable (a tough, strummy and credible cover of Rancid’s “Olympia, WA,” a song she loved in 7th grade). Also on board are gems from oldsters like the Stones (a folksy, psychedelic “She’s a Rainbow” similar to the original but featuring Tuttle’s nimble acoustic picking) and the Grateful Dead (the aforementioned “Standing on the Moon”). On the younger side, there’s Harry Styles (“Sunflower, Vol. 6”).
You also wouldn’t expect Tuttle to be influenced by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs but it turns out that “Zero” was another high school favorite. It’s transformed into a peppy acoustic tune here. Her version of The National’s “Fake Empire” strips away most of the bombast of the intense original, replaced with a stripped down sound that’s different but just as effective.
Tuttle’s supple voice, nimble award winning guitar chops and obvious love for the material carries these versions. Berg’s sympathetic production adds just enough meat and additional musicians to those solo recordings to make them jump out of the speakers. Her unique approach will likely encourage those unfamiliar with names like Karen Dalton and Arthur Russell who she covers to search them out.
That makes this a helpful guide to explore other artists as well as a glimpse into Tuttle’s wildly diverse inspirations. It’s also a textbook example of how to create stirring music while never personally interacting with other musicians or the producer you’re working with. It might just be the new normal, at least for a while.