Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway - City of Gold
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City of Gold (Nonesuch, 2023)

Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway

Reviewed by Donald Teplyske

Arguably the most interesting and versatile bluegrass band working the circuit, Molly Tuttle & Golden Highway, her touring band, return for their second album together. Unlike the preceding Grammy Award-winning "Crooked Tree," "City of Gold" is truly a band album with limited guest appearances. By featuring the musicians experienced during her live performances, this is a wide-ranging but entirely cohesive and spectacular recording.

Rich in story, this is a true modern bluegrass recording. As the two-time and reigning International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year as well as two-time Guitar Player of the Year, Tuttle is well-positioned to lead this incredible band. She produced along with Jerry Douglas. Joining her are Bronwyn Keith-Hynes (fiddle, vocals), Dominick Leslie (mandolin), Kyle Tuttle (banjo, vocals and no relation) and Shelby Means (bass, vocals).

"City of Gold" takes listeners not only on a musical journey, but geographical, environmental, and emotional ones as well. With all songs co-written by Tuttle and Ketch Secor (Old Crow Medicine Show), it kicks off with the catchy and expansive "El Dorado" before leading us to groove along with the trippy "Where Did All The Wild Things Go?" California and western environs are further explored through "Yosemite," a break-up 'stuck on a road trip' duet with Dave Matthews ("'Sometimes the road is the best remedy, for two broken hearts that need setting free") and the swinging "San Joaquin."

The pensive "Stranger Things," "Goodbye Mary" and "When My Race Is Run" allow Tuttle to further explore various emotional qualities of her voice. The peppy "Down Home Dispensary" is just plain fun, with "Alice in the Bluegrass" containing playful literary allusions, impressive lead guitar elements, and fiery bluegrass pickin'. "The First Time I Fell in Love" has a broader Americana feel with "Evergreen, OK" reminiscent of Nanci Griffith's signature approach.

Palatable bluegrass drive is sadly missing on many contemporary recordings, but such is not the case here. Means' bass propels Golden Highway across "El Dorado" with Kyle Tuttle's banjo prominent. A bluegrass band requires a tasteful and powerful fiddler, and Keith-Hynes (twice IBMA's Fiddle Player of the Year) is among the liveliest working. Golden Highway's vocal harmonies are creative and spot-on.

On an album without weakness, the highlight may be the road weary tale (with additional co-writers Means and Melody Walker) "Next Rodeo," which channels a Waylon Jennings' perspective:

It's 200 towns of one-night stands,
Tearing up the road with a five-piece band.
Some days are diamonds some days are rust,
The towns of tomorrow are yesterday's dust.

With releases like this,Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway are poised to continue their hard-earned ascension to the pinnacle of their bluegrass community.

CDs by Molly Tuttle and Golden Highway

City of Gold, 2023 Crooked Tree, 2022

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