Earlier this year, Kristian Matsson released “The Wild Hunt”, his second album under the moniker The Tallest Man on Earth. It remains one of the strongest releases of 2010, highly engaging andworking with the most basic tools of a singer-songwriter platform. Armed with just an acoustic guitar (or occasionally a piano) and a voice, Matsson’s singing and songwriting style both have echoes of early Bob Dylan in the best sorts of ways. The songs evoke the desolate highways of America, lined on both sides by nothing but sun, sand and cacti as you roll past in your car. All this from a guy that has called Sweden home for his entire life. For those that just couldn’t get enough of Matsson’s sparse folk stylings, he’s yet another artist pulling double duty this year by releasing additional music in the form of an EP. While you’d expect such small collections of tracks to be castoffs or b-sides, Matsson claims the songs that appear on “Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird” were all written this past summer after “The Wild Hunt” was released. And while these five songs are supposed to function as a standalone collection representative of a certain place and time, they tend to fall right in line with what we’ve come to expect from The Tallest Man on Earth, though with a small surprise or two.
One little difference between “The Wild Hunt” and the “Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird” EP is overall mood. All the hallmarks of The Tallest Man on Earth’s sound are there, including the complex acoustic guitar picking and relatively cryptic but always fascinating lyrics, yet the new EP is a bit of a darker affair. Matsson sounds more reflective and down on his luck than before, and that results in songs that forego much of the triumphant melodies found on the last album. The exploration of this heavier emotion is primarily only limited to the lyrics though, as there’s still some pep in his guitar. Speaking of that, if this EP contains one singular shocker, it’s the use of electric guitar on “The Dreamer”. For two albums, Matsson never once picked up an electric guitar, and perhaps as part of an experiment, he does so here. There’s a tiny bit of reverb thrown in for good measure too, and the whole thing is pretty unexpected. For a guy that makes his living with just one instrument and a voice, a change like that is a big deal, even if the quality stays consistent (which it does). He could have done virtually the same thing with his acoustic (minus the reverb) and it would have been right in line with the rest of the EP. Why he “went electric” that one time remains a mystery, and while the difference is a little jarring, there’s a strange comfort to see him mixing it up too.
As a full EP of original songs, “Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird” is yet another delightful release from The Tallest Man on Earth. What he takes from these songs in regards to future releases remains to be seen, but so long as Kristian Matsson continues to measure out his music in a modest and heartfelt way, he’ll continue to be an artist worth paying attention to. He’s ostensibly proof that the folk singer-songwriter format isn’t dead, just in need of a strong voice and smart guitar player. There’s very good reason why you’ll get deadly silent crowds at Tallest Man on Earth shows, and it’s not just because they’re all trying to hear. The guy could be playing at your local Starbucks and people would wait to order so as to not interrupt a song. Simply put, not only is the music itself impressive, but the way it’s presented is as well. The albums and this EP give you a pretty good set of expectations, and the live show delivers on those in spades. If you’ve not heard The Tallest Man on Earth before, get at least one of his albums first. Then buy this EP. Then go see him live. They’re all essentials for an artist that may very well be our next Bob Dylan, albeit without the political bent.