The self-titled debut from New York City trio Tall Tall Trees has a refreshing sound that is challenging to label. The album is banjo- and guitar-centric but has varied instrumentation, employs diverse percussion including world music rhythms, and does a fair amount of genre hopping, all on a base of solid indie-folk songwriting with college radio appeal. The composite lands somewhere at a crossroads of contemporary bluegrass, alternative country-rock, and indie folk. The murkiness in labeling is due partly to the variety of songs presented -- including the honky tonk "I Got You" and the reggae-pop "Instructions for De-Materialization" -- but also from the combination of different genre elements, which also goes a long way in explaining why the album sounds fresh. The opener, "Bubble Gum," is a prime example of this, layering banjo picking over Afro-Brazilian beats, with other unconventional banjo accompaniment including organ and even syncopated triangle. The amalgamation works and is well executed, especially in service to what, throughout the album, are tight, melody-driven tunes. Where the album gets distracting at times is not in style but in tone. Some songs, such as "The Opposite Song," "Hats," and "The Girl from the Chinese Food Restaurant" are borderline parody, or at least humorous. Others, like "Spaceman," very effectively bridge whimsy and sincerity ("Pick me up so I can leave, there’s got to be a place for me"). Then there are straight-up ballads, like "Heart Says Go" and "Grey," that may require a conscious mental reset due to the expectation of humor. A constant on the album is remarkable musicianship. The performances add credibility to the less serious songs and make the entire listen rewarding. While Tall Tall Trees feels a bit like an experiment, it’s one that is ultimately catchy and proficient.
AllMusic Review by Marcy Donelson