This is very decent work for a lockdown stopgap.
Label: Compass Records
Time: 10 tracks / 39 mins
Last year I was completely bowled over by Tuttle’s début album When You’re Ready. I noted that, “There are no fireworks here, just beautifully, beautifully judged songs that you want to put on repeat.”
This isn’t quite the follow up. With the pandemic putting the whole arts world into forced hiatus, as with Kate Rusby recently, this is a lockdown album of covers to keep things ticking over.
Saying a lot for her own songwriting, I have found her début album to be full of stronger material than this collection, where she could pick songs from anywhere and by anyone. And this has songs by artists as varied as The Rolling Stones and The Grateful Dead at one end and Harry Styles at the other.
There are several highlights for me. The Rolling Stones’ original of “She’s a Rainbow” was very psychedelic, featuring a plinky-plonk piano and strings. Tuttle’s more stripped back account displays the innocent, poppy songwriting and proves that the melody has real staying power. She also inserts an example of her breakneck fingerwork, making it fit beautifully and making it her own (if you can shred an acoustic guitar, she does it).
Tuttle used to love punk band Rancid’s “Olympia, WA” in her early teens and I can imagine her singing it with her friends at the top of their voices. Here, while the upbeat energy of the track remains, Tuttle makes it listenable and turns it into an Americana duet with Ketch Secor, with the pedal steel actually audible – as it is on sister track The Grateful Dead’s “Standing on the Moon,” where she sings a duet with Taylor Goldsmith. Its line "A lovely view of heaven, but I'd rather be with you" is a favourite of Tuttle's, hence the album title, particularly resonant in lockdown.
Tuttle notes on the cover that songwriter Matt Berninger’s lyrics can be “hilarious and heartbreaking at the same time” and it is a treat to have a quality songwriter pick out favourites to cover. Opener “Fake Empire” by The National has impressionistic, dreamy lyrics and is a memorable track.
Generally she plays these with her band, but such is the emotional rawness of FKA Twigs’ heartbreak song “Mirrored Heart” that this is a solo performance, vulnerable, transparent and virtually unadorned.
But it’s not just the songs that count; it’s also her singing and playing. The Berklee College graduate’s vocals are warm, with a soft tremor that reminded me at various times of Beth Hart and Melanie. Her guitar work is simple when it needs to be – such as on the beautiful Cat Stevens song that closes the disc – but can be both complex and speedy, as befits her reputation in the bluegrass community.