Freedays is the third LP from indie folk project Tall Tall Trees, but in a couple of significant ways, it's really a first. Both the 2009 eponymous debut and 2012's Moment were created with an official band lineup and a collaborative recording process. Likewise, they featured an array of instruments spanning folk, country, rock, and world music influences. Frontman Mike Savino ended up touring almost exclusively solo to support Moment, and compensated over time by modifying his banjo with pickups and bracing, incorporating looping, effects pedals, and even using the head of his banjo as a drum. In 2015, after releasing the four-track EP The Seasonal, which previewed his expanded use of banjo in recording as well as songwriting, Savino took to the national forests of northern Georgia. There, with the owners abroad, he acted as caretaker of a health retreat called the Bird's Nest. Working in seclusion over the course of several months, he wrote and recorded Freedays, his first effort to be conceived as a solo album, and first to rely heavily -- exclusively at first -- on the banjo for its sounds. (He eventually brought in frequent touring partner Kishi Bashi and drummers Claude Coleman, Jr. of Ween and Philip Mayer for finishing touches.) The resulting nine songs balance melody and atmosphere, whimsy and longing, and the kaleidoscopic and rustic. Taking listeners along with him to the woodland retreat, the first track, "Backroads," opens with a field recording. Teeming with wildlife including coyotes and crickets, the clatter fades into shimmering electronic noise, then banjo hand-drumming and rolling harmonic layers of banjo and effects. Introducing themes of solitude versus desire, warm, double-tracked vocals sing of carving one's own path ("Until I find a home/I'll take the backroads"). It's worth noting that Savino started his professional life as a double bassist; his knack for juicy basslines is on display throughout Freedays and one of its delights. (Acoustic and electric bass do appear on the album, as does banjo as bass.) Another find is a subplot of music appreciation. There are homages to hard rock and early pop/rock, bluegrass informs "SeagullxEagle," and "CLC" is a tender ballad that passes through sections of dissonant psychedelia and symphonic rock before returning to unadorned banjo. The album closes with the title track, a countdown to the arrival of true love. Anticipation swells with echoing drums and climbing chord progressions until, by the end, our protagonist is further away than ever from what he seeks -- lyrically and physically, his voice filtered as if through an antique radio. Altogether a solid marriage of songwriting and meaningful production, Freedays rises far above a recording gimmick, delivering heartfelt music that's at least as charming as it is innovative.
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AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson