Any write-up of Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man on Earth, inevitably makes the Bob Dylan comparison. The parallels are there, what with the loose, acoustic fingerpicking, the scraggly voice, and the Greenwich Village vibe all present as hallmarks of Matsson’s sound. However, Dylan appraisals are pointless and derivative unless the songs are there and can stand on their own. In this essential regard, Matsson succeeds, as he has consistently shown over several previous albums a penchant for alternating between cryptically worded vignettes and confessional narratives that, despite the tired comparisons, actually do share trademarks with Bob’s epic canon. With his newest release, There’s No Leaving Now
, Matsson may have finally created a song cycle that can stand on its own merit, free from the albatross of legendary associations and instead possibly establishing The Tallest Man on Earth as a basis of measure.
This time around, Matsson slowed down the pace, choosing to ditch the vagabond approach to recording he had previously employed. Instead, he holed up in his native land, taking his time to record at home, leisurely putting songs and melodies to tape when the muse struck and inspired. While on the surface, this may seem like an idyllic haven for a folksinger, Matsson used his comfortable surroundings to step outside of his comfort zone, opting to fiddle around with multi-tracking and added flairs of instrumentation that was largely absent from his previous recordings. This decision pays off throughout the album’s ten tracks, offering a sturdier foundation to thumping and urgent songs like “Leading Me Now”, “1904”, and “Little Brother” and a cinematic edge to the more contemplative numbers like “Revelation Blues” and the elegantly understated “Criminals”. With various woodwinds and percussion floating through the mix, Matsson’s songs sound just a bit warmer and fuller than they have before, but still fall short of sounding grandiose or maudlin. In fact, if music like this was still in fashion on the charts, he just might have a hit or two, with the best bet being “Wind and Walls”, a fast strummed acoustic number, complete with a chorus that may be the catchiest thing Matsson has ever written. It’s not too difficult to see this one catching the ear of a Hollywood music supervisor either. There’s No Leaving Now
breaks in some new ground for Matsson by proving he can continue to create folk gems while simultaneously adding a more dynamic sound approach. It’s an important step for an artist who we should expect to hear from for a long time coming. The melancholy album closer “On Every Page”, however, shows that while Matsson may opt for a sunnier disposition from time to time, he is still quite aware of the dual and fleeting nature of time:Well, you know you’re already youngLike the grass withered to becomeAlone and freeIt’s all we’ll ever be
It’s a sentiment that’s been reflected since the days of Harry Smith’s Anthology
, and Matsson is obviously indebted to this canon. The best folksingers see the light and the dark in every corner and can articulate the contrasts better than most. The Tallest Man on Earth may well be on his way to becoming an all-time great.