Molly Tuttle blazes progressive bluegrass trail on new album ‘City of Gold’

Molly Tuttle’s crossover status as a Berklee College of Music-educated and Grammy-winning International Bluegrass Music Association Guitar Player of the Year are on full display with her new album “City of Gold.”

The 30-year-old performer’s fourth album in five years (following Grammy-winning 2022 album “Crooked Tree”) arrived on July 21.

Tuttle’s sensibilities as a Silicon Valley native struggling to juxtapose vivid memories of a childhood spent heralding the Bay Area’s nearly gold mining tradition with its digital and online industry’s rise and decline stunningly melds well with America’s roots music traditions on her latest release’s tracks like “El Dorado.”

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway's new album

She says working with her band Golden Highway on tour and in the studio fairly solidly for the past two years has benefitted her new material’s cohesive, unique sound.

The album represents an artist who is as unlikely as the genre she represents at the crossroads of rising stardom and established superstar status.

Tuttle cites Dan Tyminski and producer T-Bone Burnett’s work in 2000 with the “O Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack as one of many “crazy” moments when bluegrass achieved broader appeal as it emerged from being a closely held genre built on generational family and rural social traditions.

“Acoustic instruments and relatable storytelling allow people to resonate with raw emotions, differently,” Tuttle says.

On “El Dorado” and tracks like “Where the Wild Things Go,” the romanticizing of a nostalgic yearning for times when her life and the lives of those around her were simpler is significant. “I miss when things felt fresh and new,” she notes. But she’s also readily aware that so much has changed so swiftly in her career.

Born in Palo Alto, California, her father was a farmer and her grandfather a banjo-playing Grand Ole Opry fanatic. The entire family formed an acclaimed bluegrass band complete with a guitarist and two mandolin players.

Molly Tuttle performs at the 2022 Pilgrimage Music Festival in Franklin.

Tuttle is a globally traveled creator who has also achieved critical and award-winning solo acclaim. Plus, the influences of artists outside her family, including icons like Bill Monroe, bluegrass modernist Kathy Kallick and “City of Gold”-featured modern rock favorite Dave Matthews are ever-present in her work.

Extending her work into more blues-defined stylings also offers her introspective lyricism greater, unprecedented depth. Tuttle cites more outside influences, including her frequent creative partner and Old Crow Medicine Show lead vocalist Ketch Secor (who co-wrote most of the album along with Tuttle), as having a more direct influence on songs like the freewheeling yarn-defined “Down Home Dispensary” and “San Joaquin,” a song inspired by childhood train journeys through California’s 450-mile Central Valley agricultural region.

“Pulling from classic musical traditions to stretch bluegrass in new directions that expand (the genre’s) old templates with contemporary elements allows me to create my own space,” she states about her style, which fuses tempos and scales unfamiliar to bluegrass’ legacy to usher the genre into an era wherein blurred genre lines are extending deeper and further into popular music history.

On “City of Gold,” Tuttle’s sonic freedom and explorative expansions reflect how, within a half-decade, she’s emerged as a performer whose refusal to be pigeonholed has led her to merge live event-favored jam-band stylings with a growing insistence on placing a more personal stamp on her career — plus now, with her band Golden Highway, playing alongside a growing cadre of close musical friends.

She cites “not denying her bluegrass self,” but embracing her love of contemporary music and how diverse sounds have impacted her life as one of the greatest career victories of her current artistic era.

Grammy Award-winning artist Molly Tuttle performs from the State Street Stage at the 2022 Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion music festival in historic downtown Bristol.

When asked to summarize how she’s synergized so much efficiently into a cohesive album, she makes a statement that portends a brilliant career to come: “I’m using trailblazing influences to create an instantaneously recognizable sound that will, hopefully, one day, pave the path to my style sounding like its own style of music.”

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