Molly Tuttle + Ole Kirkeng, Night & Day, Manchester, 11th April 2019

Molly Tuttle has been creating quite a lot of noise recently and on tonight’s evidence she’s no empty vessel. Twenty-six year old Tuttle grew up in San Francisco and started to play the guitar when she was eight years old. Four years ago, she moved to Nashville, releasing a seven track mini- album ‘Rise’ in 2017. Her debut full album ‘When You’re Ready’ was released earlier this month to huge critical acclaim. No surprise really then to find a packed crowd in Manchester wanting to check out the live experience and they were not disappointed as they were treated to an enthralling evening of Tuttle’s songs along with some carefully selected covers and a display of folk guitar playing that stands up alongside the very best.

Ole Kirkeng, a Norwegian singer-songwriter now based in New York, kicked off the evening with a set of gentle folk songs which were received with quiet respect. Kirkeng is also the bass player in Courtney Marie Andrews’s touring band. His debut release, a four track EP ‘People and Places’ came out in February. As Kirkeng departed the stage, the audience moved hastily forward to take their places for the main event. Tuttle wandered quietly on stage with no fanfare and was warmly welcomed by an expectant crowd. She opened with ‘Save this Heart’ from her debut release. She went on play two other songs from that collection: ‘Friend and a Friend’ and ‘Good Enough’ during her set.

The majority of the set though, was made up of songs from the debut album, each one beautifully crafted and superbly delivered. In 2017 Tuttle became the first female recipient of the Bluegrass Music Association’s Guitar Player of the Year Award. She then won it again in 2018. Traditional flat-picking, cross-picking and clawhammer styles were all on view during a captivating performance. Although the instrument was not given an outing tonight, Tuttle is also a very fine banjo player. It would be a mistake though, to categorise her as just a musical technician. Tuttle possesses a pure and clear voice which she can bend and manipulate as well as any of the strings on her guitar. She also composes very literate and poetic songs, making her the embodiment of the complete artist.

As the evening went on, an already excited crowd became more and more rapturous with each song. Every single one was a gem and it would border on churlish to single out any one of them for special praise, such was the overall quality. In addition to her own songs, we were treated to some wonderful cover versions. John Hartford’s ‘Gentle on my Mind’ was played with much greater tempo than the original and a glorious bluegrass version of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘White Freightliner Blues’ received a particularly vociferous ovation. The traditional American folk song ‘Rain and Snow’ was given a lyrical update. The song has been covered by many over the years, including Bill Monroe, Pentangle and The Grateful Dead, but Tuttle’s version is right up there with the best.

Molly Tuttle seemed genuinely taken aback by the size and enthusiasm of her audience. Her humility and engaging stage presence only adding to her appeal. When she left the stage following her last song ‘Take the Journey’ there was a cacophony of noise produced by as raucous an ovation as this reviewer has witnessed from a folk audience in a long time. After a short absence from the stage, she returned to offer a choice of encores: a Neil Young song or a Smiths song, explaining that the latter were one of her favourite bands growing up. It is perhaps a measure of how far Morrissey’s star has fallen, that a Manchester audience overwhelmingly chose Neil Young. Molly seemed a bit disappointed acknowledging that, “I know Morrissey is a bit of a controversial figure these days” and so we were treated to a fine rendition of ‘Helpless’ to end our evening. The audience gleefully sang along, and everyone went home wearing a smile. If you are not already familiar with Molly Tuttle, you probably need to get yourself acquainted quickly. I suspect that you will be hearing much more of her in future.

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