Young musicians are on the rise in bluegrass these days. Of course, there have always been exceptional teens making their mark on the genre – J.D. Crowe with Jimmy Martin, Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley joining the Clinch Mountain Boys, and Sierra Hull, among others – but recently, it seems like there are too many talented youngsters to count. Many of them are finding their start in family bands, and The Tuttles with A.J. Lee are no different. This California-based group, which consists of three young Tuttles (Molly, Michael, and Sullivan) their dad Jack, and friend A.J. Lee, recently released a new album entitled Endless Ocean.
The bulk of the thirteen tracks will be familiar to most fans of bluegrass, although the group has tidied up the pieces a bit, giving them a smoother, more contemporary feel. The clear, smooth voices of A.J. and Molly guide the band, layering well over the nicely performed instrumental work. At times, the vocals seem almost a little too even, particularly on the livelier tunes. For instance, the old Cowboy Copas number Alabam is usually done with a bit of humor in the vocals, but here the delivery is much more straightforward.
This quality works perfectly, however, on the acoustic country and pop-influenced songs, such as Molly’s composition Endless Ocean. This melodic piece about the feeling of leaving has a soothing, peaceful feel with tasteful guitar solos from Molly and Sullivan. Temazcal is another track which shows the band’s more modern influences. Written by indie rock favorite Conor Oberst and previously recorded by his folk rock group Monsters of Folk, it’s a semi-dark, reflective number with Spanish-tinged guitar.
Two of the album’s best songs are its two most yearning. Oh, Mandolin was written by Herb McCullough, Debbie Nims, and Taylor Pie and speaks of the instrument’s power to sooth a broken heart. Here, it’s a duet between Molly and A.J., with A.J.’s slightly higher harmonies an excellent complement to Molly’s emotion-laden lead. Molly also takes the lead on Hazel Dickens’ A Few Old Memories, which is given a traditional country treatment and sounds quite similar to Dickens’ own cut of the song.
There’s also a nice, acoustic country rendition of Gram Parsons’ Hickory Wind, featuring A.J. on lead, and a light, old-time version of Cotton Eyed Joe, complete with some of the traditional lyrics. White House Blues is easily the most traditional bluegrass sounding song on the album, and the instrumental work is solid, although like the previously mentioned Alabam, the vocals and instrumentals lack some of the emotion and urgency that’s usually found in the song.
The members of the Tuttles with A.J. Lee are all very talented, offering skillful solos throughout the album. Molly (guitar, banjo, and vocals), A.J. (mandolin and vocals), Sullivan (guitar), Michael (mandolin), and Jack (bass and harmony vocals) work well together on this album, moving easily between classic and newer sounds. Like many younger bands, the group does sound more comfortable on the more modern pieces, but it’s nice to see them honoring tradition, as well.
For more information on the band, visit their website at www.thetuttleswithajlee.com. Their new album can be purchased from their website, as well as several online retailers.