The Tallest Man On Earth is the name Swedish folk artist Kristian Matsson performs under. On There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson sings, and plays guitar, piano and other instruments. The album was released by indie label Dead Oceans, which also includes such respected artists as Akron/Family, John Vanderslice and Califone on its roster. The song that stands out above the rest is “1904,” which had this writer scouring the internet to find out what the heck happened that year. When he sings, “Shook the Earth in 1904,” he’s most likely singing about an earthquake that hit Sweden and Norway that year. It’s known as the Oslofjord earthquake. However, Matsson doesn’t go into a whole lot of specific details, so the song could partly be about the earthquake, as well as many other events. There are moments during this song where Matsson brings to mind Mike Scott’s heyday with the Waterboys.
There is a youthful innocence about his singing that brings the song to life in a way that counters so much of the cynicism found in far too much modern music today. Stylistically, The Tallest Man On Earth is tough to peg specifically. For instance, “Bright Lanterns” features pedal steel guitar winding its way through the track, although you can’t call what Matsson does country music. In many cases, he can be heard rapidly finger picking acoustic guitar, creating a sound that hearkens back to the folk revival sounds in the 60s. “
Revelation Blues” is one of the tracks where the acoustic guitar work simple propels the song to wonderful aural bliss. “Leading Me Now” also skips along like one of those great, early Bob Dylan songs.As a singer, Matsson is not a particularly pretty sounding vocalist. He shares a bit of a vocal whine with another significant 60s folksinger, Bob Dylan. (Dylan is a reference point quite often throughout this CD). While he mostly accompanies himself on acoustic guitar, this album’s title track features a sad, late night acoustic piano backing while Matsson sings.
Although it’s not always obvious what Matsson is singing about in these songs, he nevertheless always sounds to be singing something important. He’s like one of those athletes that never gives less than 100%. He pushes his voice to the point of breaking many times, because he sings ‘em as if it was possibly the last time he’d ever have a chance to sing. It’s fascinating how an artist can take so few elements, as in the minimal number of instruments utilized on this album, yet have it come out so full sounding. For instance, this album’s title track (a song so good, it’s worth mentioning more than once) is just Matsson and a piano, nothing more. It’s all he really needs, though, because he is going for the ultimate intimacy on it.
This song is personal, and he doesn’t want a lot of superfluous instrumentation coming between the artist and his listeners. While Matsson can oftentimes sound woebegone, he comes off downright exuberant on “Wind and Walls.” He sings over a galloping acoustic guitar part, a little like a happier Ryan Adams, with all the enthusiasm of an optimistic child. He sings about a future of love and rest, after troubles have ended. It’s the sort of song that makes you feel good. You tap your toe, not because you’re on a Disneyland amusement ride, but because you’ve just heard a folk-rock song filled with hope, and hope is so hard to come by these days.
There’s No Leaving Now is like found treasure, if you haven’t heard this man’s work before. If you love artists like Ryan Adams and Bright Eyes, you’ll almost certainly find much that’s truly enjoyable with The Tallest Man On Earth. He may not be NBA basketball player tall, but Kristian Matsson stands mighty tall when he’s singing his passionate folk-rock. Dig into his music. You won’t regret it.
Listen to my favorite song: “There’s No Leaving Now”