It is remarkably easy to say that The Tallest Man on Earth (aka Kristian Matsson) is the heir apparent to Bob Dylan’s folk throne. Not only do the guy’s songs tend to have the raw acoustics of Dylan at his most heartfelt, along with some excellent wordplay, but what really sells the idea is Matsson’s somewhat nasal and gravelly voice. I’m assuming that after an EP and a debut record, he’s sick of all the Dylan references, and so for the rest of my review of his new album “The Wild Hunt,” I’ll do my best to avoid such comparisons. Just recognize from this point on that if you’re a fan of early Dylan material, The Tallest Man on Earth really feels like a continuation of those songs and ideas, similar to how Dylan felt like a new folk hero back in the day while following in the footsteps of Woody Guthrie. .
For those of you just now giving The Tallest Man on Earth a go for the first time, let me do my best to convince you that this is an artist you need to be giving more attention to. For much of “The Wild Hunt,” as with previous Tallest Man recordings, Matsson keeps the songs as sparse as humanly possible. That means just a singular acoustic guitar and voice most of the time, and quite frankly that’s good enough. You do get a small bit of banjo on the opening title track, and the closer pulls a surprise by trading in the acoustic guitar for a piano. Much of the new album is sprightly and jaunty though, maintaining a rough folk edge but at a tempo that’s quick enough to hold your attention and keep your toe tapping. There’s only a couple slow ballads on this record, placed strategically in the tracklisting to maximize their effect, and Matsson also uses them to an advantage by delivering some of his most highly emotive vocal performances to date. The guy may not have the biggest vocal range in the world, but given the right backing music, such as the carefully crafted folk he has here, he works it to the absolute best of his abilities.
The good news, for those of you introduced to The Tallest Man on Earth via his debut full length “Shallow Grave” or the self-titled EP before it, is that “The Wild Hunt” feels like a continuation of both those recordings. Given the strength of those earlier recordings, you might be wary of the thought that Matsson is a one trick pony whose only real skill is being able to write a good folk song. It would be a problem at this point had the material not been so strong. Plus, Matsson continues to grow as a songwriter, and his words are more vivid and intricate on this record than they ever have been before, and the additional emotion he puts into these songs is also a strong display of progression in a positive direction.
Should you have been lucky enough to have seen The Tallest Man on Earth perform live in the past couple years, either thanks to a headlining tour or opening up for similar artists such as Bon Iver and John Vanderslice, I hope he won you over with his starkly wonderful folk songs. Between Matsson and somebody like Justin Vernon of Bon Iver, I really do hope there’s yet another revival of folk in the next couple years. I understand a folk revival has happened a number of times before, but given the brilliance of some of these quiet acoustic records in the past couple years, it’d be nice to see some of these great artists get their due. “The Wild Hunt” marks yet another strong entry into the folk canon, and it also makes for one of the strongest releases so far this calendar year. You might be kicking yourself later on should you let this record pass you by, so I hope you’ll give The Tallest Man on Earth a try. Unlike the shakily hyped trends in music recently such as lo-fi and glo-fi, it’s really great to give a more traditional and “classic”-sounding record some press. Some trends just never go out of style, and I hope folk music continues to stay that way.