The Tallest Man on Earth’s latest, There’s No Leaving Now, is out today. To celebrate the release, enjoy this feature that was originally published in 2008.
Hometown: Leksand, Sweden
Album: Shallow Grave
Band Member: Kristian Matsson
For Fans Of: Neutral Milk Hotel, Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, early Dylan
Toward the end of “Talkin’ New York,” the second track from Bob Dylan’s eponymous debut, the 20-year-old folksinger probed into American lives with precocious insight: “A lot of people don’t have much food on their table,” he drawled, “but they got a lot of forks ‘n knives, and they gotta cut somethin’.” Dylan was wrought by his world. And his hunt for the right words, stories and sounds to comprehend its changes led him into all corners of creation—whimsical poetry, matter-of-fact protest tales, acoustic twang and electric echoes.
The Tallest Man On Earth, like Dylan before him, grounds his songs in Son House- and Blind Willie McTell-inspired guitar work, lofting tempestuous vocals overhead and garnishing liberally with “babe”s and “honey”s. As if simultaneously tipping his hat and thumbing his nose, Swedish singer/songwriter Kristian Matsson took inspiration for the Tallest Man moniker from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow—the 19th-century poet accused by critics of being “artificial and imitative”—even as the move mirrored Dylan’s own renaming after Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. But the Tallest Man’s most Dylanesque trait might be the way he rises above obvious comparisons, just as Dylan transcended his ?similarities to Woody Guthrie.?
Not a politically conscious countryman twisting his homeland’s traditions, Matsson is a troubadour from mystical Scandinavia, breaking into Americana from the outside. This—along with his love for Longfellow—explains why many of his songs center on the natural and the fantastical. Wind, that famous Dylan metaphor, works differently when Matsson sings, “Damn be this wind, it’s still movin’ on in / To the bones and the bed of my soul.” And while a young Dylan went “a-thinkin’ and a-wondrin’, walkin’ down the road” to find ways to fathom his world, Matsson ?escapes into shimmering fairy-tale tropes: unicorns, kerosene eyes, houses painted with water. The Tallest Man doesn’t sit meekly at Dylan’s feet; he stands atop his forebear’s shoulders. Maybe that’s why he’s so tall.