Though raised in California’s suburbs, Molly Tuttle had her heart hijacked by bluegrass music at the age of 11, when her father took her to an upstate country festival, an experience recounted here on Grass Valley (with her dad on vocals). This is Tuttle’s third album but the first all-bluegrass affair, after 2019’s When You’re Ready, a debut of crafted Americana, and 2020’s …But I’d Rather Be With You, a collection of engaging cover versions that included the Rolling Stones’ She’s a Rainbow reimagined as a feminist anthem. Crooked Tree looks destined to establish the 29-year-old singer and guitarist with a wider audience.
Several heavyweight talents contribute, including Old Crow Medicine Show, whose Ketch Secor co-wrote several songs, and Dobro maestro Jerry Douglas, who produces and plays. It’s an upbeat, melodic set full of phenomenal picking, not least from Tuttle herself. Thematically, it’s bluegrass-lite; no bitter tears are shed for old loves, the Lord is not summoned, there’s just the one murder ballad. Instead, Tuttle’s clear voice delivers songs about strong women such as Side Saddle, a cowgirl duet with Gillian Welch, and cameos of modern America: San Francisco gentrification, weed farming and, on the title track, misfits such as herself. A class act.