Collaborative Album Review: Molly Tuttle – ‘When You’re Ready’ (w/ Country Exclusive)

When You're Ready cover

The short version: Megan Bledsoe of Country Exclusive and I team up to discuss the debut album from Molly Tuttle, ‘When You’re Ready.’

  • Zack’s favorite tracks: “When You’re Ready,” “Clue,” “Sleepwalking,” “Million Miles”
    • Least favorite track: “Sit Back and Watch It Roll”
    • Rating: 6/10
  • Megan’s favorite tracks: “When You’re Ready,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Light Came In (Power Went Out)” “Million Miles,” “Take the Journey”
    • Least favorite track: “Sleepwalking”
    • Rating: 7/10

Zackary Kephart: So let’s first establish a bit of background with Molly Tuttle – guitar virtuoso schooled in bluegrass in various musical camps and communal-jam environments. In terms of accomplishments, Tuttle is one of the most talented guitar players right now, and she’s only 25-years-old. With her debut EP, Tuttle was reminiscent of fellow bluegrass acts such as Sarah Jarosz or Aoife Donovan, both in terms of presentation and style. But ahead of her proper debut album, When You’re Ready, Tuttle embraced a change – an environment free from genre. While that’s not a groundbreaking statement for artists to make these days, given the level of talent on display, it certainly piqued my interest. So what were your initial thoughts on the album and how have they changed, if they’ve changed at all?

Megan Bledsoe: Well, I’ll admit that I did expect the album to embrace more bluegrass elements than it actually does. Even with the desire by Tuttle to be genre-independent, it stood to reason that the project would have some bluegrass material. Aside from “Take the Journey,” that’s not really the case. Throughout much of this album, it’s bluegrass-influenced, with intricate guitar picking reminiscent of that genre. But if I’d gone into this not knowing her background, I’d probably call it a folk-pop record with bluegrass influences. After several listens, I’ve come to appreciate the style as something that could really set her apart if she embraced it fully. Country and pop have always mixed with one another, sometimes to the detriment of both genres. But we really don’t see pop blending with bluegrass.

Z: For me, my background with her was hazy, and prior to hearing this album, I had only heard of her as a “bluegrass” artist. Despite this, the album’s style doesn’t surprise me. Instead, given that she’s a guitar virtuoso, I will admit I’m a bit disappointed with this album. While I do respect how lush this album can feel, it also comes with moments that are too polished, and considering that neither the vocals or lyrical content do much of any heavy lifting, it’s an album I ultimately want to like more than I do. Although with some moments here, I’ll say it feels like what we’d hear if baroque pop and bluegrass (plus Americana) collided.

M: Baroque is such a brilliant description for this. There are a lot of interesting, elegant guitar runs and licks, but it rarely feels like the guitar is actually allowed to run free. “Take the Journey” would be the closest example to this, but even here, the guitar is very controlled and precise, even if it’s more energetic than what we see on many of these selections. Contrast this with something like the new album from The Infamous Stringdusters, Rise Sun, where the energy is real and spontaneous, and this feels too polished and rehearsed. The vocals can indeed be a bit nondescript, and this circles back to the feeling that Tuttle needs to embrace the bluegrass/pop blend more in order to make herself stand out. “Light Came In (Power Went Out)” is almost power-pop in its execution, but add some dobro or banjo and some more acoustic guitar, and this becomes completely unique despite her voice not being very distinctive. It’s the style Carly Pearce could develop equally well in the mainstream if she’s given the creative freedom.

Z: I agree with this. For the most part, the acoustic guitars come through with a lot of warmth, and when she adds piano like on the title track or “Sleepwalking,” it adds to the dreamier nature of the content. But often, it feels like there could be more added to the production. For as great of a guitar player as she is, I agree with your take that it rarely fluctuates on this album. Some of the chord progressions tend to run together. Considering her voice is often placed at the front of the mix with little more than an acoustic guitar, I’m surprised they didn’t try to go for more moments like the title track or “Don’t Let Go,” or “Sleepwalking” which play to moodier territory and are reliant on minor chords.

M: The title track and “Don’t Let Go” are two of the strongest moments here lyrically and melodically; in fact, the album really hits its stride here for me in its heart with these two selections, “High Road,” and “Light Came in (Power Went Out).” This stretch really sells me on Tuttle and her potential as a songwriter independent of her instrumental prowess. It’s true that “Sleepalking” relies on the same sort of dreamy atmosphere, but for me, this is the dullest moment on the whole thing, one of those times where the effort to sound pretty and precise resulted in a very polished track that ultimately wasn’t memorable at all.

Z: In terms of the actual lyrical content, I’m not quite as sold as you are. I did enjoy the angst and urgency that comes with being young and trying to understand life, but I often found the songs to scratch the surface with this concept. “Make My Mind Up,” “The High Road,” and “Messed With My Mind” are all good post-breakup tracks, but the focus is more on the immediate emotion of it rather than establishing the scene or giving the listener something to latch on to. And beyond that, there’s other tracks here that merely scratch the surface. “Take The Journey,” despite how awesome that song sounds, and “Sit Back and Watch It Roll” are both quasi-inspirational tracks that don’t stick in the mind because of that. Now don’t get me wrong, I do think there’s potential. For as much as the concept is outdated in “Clue” with trying to find an old lover-turned-singer on the radio, it’s one track here that works because it does establish that story. I feel more invested in it, in other words.

M: “Take the Journey” is a highlight for me, but yes, it’s because of the music and melody rather than anything special lyrically. Some of the breakup tracks, especially “Make My Mind Up,” could have delved deeper lyrically. “Clue” was a bit sleepy for me, but I felt very invested in “Million Miles.” Tuttle gets more specific here in terms of the writing and imagery, like saying she wishes the ocean would just come into her house and “carry me and my couch away.” This song goes deeper than the surface and captures that feeling of listlessness often felt after a breakup.

Z: Yes, I did quite like the stronger melodic focus of “A Million Miles” and imagery. On that note, I’m also a fan of Tuttle herself. I wouldn’t say she’s necessarily the most distinctive singer, but she’s purely captivating on tracks like the title track, “Million Miles,” “Don’t Let Go,” “Clue,” and “Sleepwalking.” On the other hand, there’s moments where you can tell they went with added reverb to her voice to give some of these tracks a “grittier” vibe. And instead, it would have been better to strengthen the instrumental tones. “Sit Back and Watch It Roll” is likely my least favorite track because of that.

M: Yes, I agree that despite not really having a distinctive vocal quality, her delivery helps a lot of these tracks. She really does a nice job selling the emotion of the songs throughout most of this. Overall, this album really shows a lot of potential for Tuttle. She is obviously still trying to find her identity, and that can make this record feel not quite sure of itself at times. The style itself could be really unique and cool if Tuttle decides to go all in on embracing the bluegrass influences in a more pop context. It’s not perfect lyrically or vocally, and brought down a little by the incessant polish. But this is a solid start from a promising artist who really has me excited. I’d give this a strong 7/10 overall.

Z: Overall, for me, I enjoy Tuttle as a performer and think she’s incredibly talented. But this album isn’t quite the best way to showcase that. For me, between the production not being as strong as it could be and some clumsy lyrics, I’m going with a decent 6 for this project. Still, I like Tuttle’s style, so hopefully this can be a nice transition into something even bigger and better from her.

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