Debut albums come in lots of proverbial shapes and sizes. Sometimes, they are the very first thing anyone has ever heard from an artist. Other times, they are the obvious next step in a career already brimming with accomplishments and accolades. That latter category is the one in which we find Molly Tuttle.
Having previously been named the Americana Music Awards Instrumentalist of the Year, the Folk Alliance International Song of the Year, and, twice, the International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year, Tuttle already has a shelf full of trophies, despite having only released 2017’s Rise EP. Now that her debut album, When You’re Ready, is out, she’s more than probably going to need extra shelves.
So, yeah, pretty much everyone in the acoustic music community knows what a mind-blowingly talented guitar player Tuttle is. Those who listened to Rise even have an indication of her other abilities. But When You’re Ready finds her leveling up on everything. Her voice is stronger, both physically and emotionally, than on Rise, as is her songwriting. Thankfully, she’s such a good player that she knows better than to show off on every track, as far too many in bluegrass circles are wont to do. Instead, she focuses, here, on making a complete and cohesive album that showcases all of her talents equally.
That balance of powers really comes into view in the middle section of the cycle, from the title track on through. Sure, “Million Miles Away” features a jaunty hookworm of a melody and harmony vocals by Jason Isbell and “Take the Journey” shows the bluegrass influence in her vocal approach, while her frailing, percussive guitar playing echoes early Ani DiFranco, though without the punk angst. But all the songs that come after are where this thing finds its most solid footing, standing on broader, heartier ground.
The spacey, ambient textures at the end of “Don’t Let Go” feel like harbingers of things to come, as Tuttle spies her musical horizons considerably past her bluegrass origins. And, indeed, they are just that. Throughout the whole of “Messed with My Mind,” “Sleepwalking,” and “Sit Back and Watch It Roll,” Tuttle paints with more colors than usual, in terms of instrumentation and production. Some traditionalists might be annoyed by her folk-pop tendencies, but they would do well to set their grievances aside and let Molly be Molly. After all, this is just her debut and there is, no doubt, much, much more to come from this astounding talent.