Molly Tuttle wants every note she plays to have the most impact. That often means using open strings.
“I like it because the notes really ring out,” Tuttle says. “Sometimes I use open strings as a way to transition from down the neck to up the neck. I might throw in an open string to have time to move my hands to a new position. I really like to cross-pick, and open strings create this really pretty ringing of the notes over each other.”
It’s also natural to bluegrass, the genre – and playing style – Tuttle grew up with. She recently returned to the genre for Crooked Tree, an album she recorded with her supporting band, Golden Highway – which was co-produced by Jerry Douglas and features contributions from Billy Strings, Old Crow Medicine Show, Dan Tyminski, Gillian Welch and more.
While in a creative rut during the pandemic, Tuttle realized bluegrass was the answer.
“I had been kind of getting frustrated,” she says. “I was writing a lot of songs, but I started feeling creatively stuck. Then I was like, ‘I’m going to try to write some bluegrass songs’ – and once I started, I couldn’t stop.”
Which is convenient for Tuttle, since bluegrass is basically second nature to her. “I don’t have to think about it. I can just kind of switch on my bluegrass brain in a way,” she says. “The last couple of albums I’ve done, I’ve tried to stretch myself musically; they haven’t really been bluegrass albums, and that was a really fun challenge. But for this album, it just felt like returning to what I do the most naturally and what I grew up hearing and playing.”
One of her favorite moments was playing in the clawhammer style for The River Knows. “I tune to this modal G tuning,” she says. “It’s kind of a new take on a murder ballad that me and my friend Melody Walker wrote. It’s a banjo style that’s kind of adapted to guitar.”
Speaking of guitars, on Crooked Tree, Tuttle used a Brazilian rosewood Martin D-28 acoustic guitar that she picked up in 2019. “They’re built to replicate guitars from the ’30s,” she says. “To me, it’s as close as a new guitar comes to sounding like an old guitar, and the Brazilian rosewood makes it ring in a really nice way. It almost has a piano-like tone.”
- Crooked Tree (opens in new tab) is out now via Nonesuch.