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Tall Tall Trees “Freedays” – perfecting the electric banjo technique

Tall Tall Trees
Joyful Noise Recordings

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I often wondered, with the amount of alt.folk and countrified psyche bands releasing albums and often utilising traditional and acoustic instruments in their music, exactly what was happening with that mainstay of the folk music world for nearly two centuries, the banjo? As someone that has spent some amounts of time researching and studying (even occasionally playing) guitars of various kinds, the banjo seemed like an instrument experiencing a certain amount of neglect in terms of its development. As guitars and amps and everything else upped their specs and adapted to digitisation, why wasn’t anyone doing the same for the banjo? Heck, it seemed as if only the Magnetic Fields even knew how to tune one nowadays.

Step forward Mike Savino, a true innovator, leading where others follow and making music that at least equals his technical inspirations. He utilises an effects rack and large amounts of delay to build a sound that seems to have been made by anything up to a half a dozen separate instruments, something I’ve seen one or two street performers doing and the combined mastery of the equipment and amount of concentration required to keep any individual song focused has impressed me whenever I’ve seen a musician using such a rig. Mike Savino has perfected this technique and his third album “Freedays” is something of a tour de force of songwriting and the sheer enjoyment of generating electronic sound. Savino’s enthusiasm for his music is a significant component in his continually innovative compositions.

Over its nine tracks, “Freedays” takes in more musical destinations than are usual throughout its travels. Opening track “Backroads” is a more than competently played Alt.Folk tune, and an album of songs of that type would satisfy many other performers, but not Mike Savino, who isn’t content to just keep it laid back. “A Place To Call Your Own” hints at a harder edged psyche rock side to Tall Tall Trees and “CLC” shows us that it isn’t just all about the effects pedals as a combination of observational songwriting and unalloyed acoustic atmospherics reveal exactly what a formidable talent Mike Savino actually is. “Lost In Time” combines a swaying vaudeville rhythm and a finely structured song arrangement, and the experimentalism of “The Riverbend” has Savino drawing the maximum amount of sound from his banjo over a resonating prog rock arrangement that is the album’s probable highlight.

You’ve heard alt.folk. You’ve heard Psyche Rock. You’ve heard electronic experimentalism, soaring vocals and lyrical songwriting. You probably haven’t heard all of these elements combined quite as expertly as they are on “Freedays”, an album that veers from introspection to delirium to euphoria, is occasionally bewildering in its intricacy, and that all the while retains its grasp of musicality. Mike Savino’s third album is perhaps one of the most significant alt.folk releases of recent years.