The Tallest Man on Earth

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The Tallest Man on Earth harkens back to folk traditions of the sixties

:: The Tallest Man On Earth ::
:: Fox Theatre :: May 18 ::
:: Bluebird Theater :: May 19 ::

By Timothy Dwenger

It’s a lonely moniker, The Tallest Man on Earth, but his is a lonely profession. As a solo touring musician, Kristian Matsson faces fans and critics alike alone, armed with nothing but an acoustic guitar and a powerful arsenal of lyrics. From the very first notes of his new record The Wild Hunt, it’s clear that Matsson has the blood of the ’60s folk movement running through his veins. His guitar playing is effortless and while his voice isn’t silky smooth, it’s genuine and passionate. It’s these kinds of qualities, coupled with songs that are at once current and timeless, that make The Tallest Man on Earth such a powerful force.

Despite constant comparisons to Bob Dylan, it is important to remember that The Tallest Man on Earth is not a relic from the ’60s enjoying a resurgence in his career, but a 27-year-old Swedish songwriter who chooses to write in his second language, English. His lyrics demonstrate a command of the language that would be envied by most native speakers. Lines like, “Oh but rumor has it that I wasn’t born, I just walked in one frosty morn. Into the vision of some vacant mind,” slip off his tongue as he deftly finger picks intricate melodies on his guitar.

To hear him play, most people would think that the guitar has been a passion for him since he was a small boy, but it turns out that while Matsson studied classical and jazz guitar in high school, he hasn’t always been enamored with the instrument. “In high school I studied music, played jazz and classical, and learned all the chords there are. I kinda just got bored of the guitar as an instrument. Finally, in my early 20s, I found Nike Drake and Skip James and figured out that you can retune the guitar and do whatever you like to make it easy and fun. In a new tuning you just have to guess and I think that’s where I started to find the beautiful chords and different melodies because I wasn’t really sure what I was doing. It helps to be a bit lost. I guess I kinda got lazy when I thought I knew exactly how to play the guitar, it just wasn’t inspiring when I felt that I knew how the next chord was going to sound all the time when I was trying to write a song,” Matsson said in a hushed voice when The Marquee caught up with him as he prepared for a Pitchfork.com video shoot in New York City.

The simple fact that Pitchfork, the notoriously critical webzine of the hipster elite, is giving The Tallest Man on Earth any press at all, let alone outstanding reviews and video spots, is a huge testament to Matsson’s relevance as an artist. The Wild Hunt recently received the coveted “Best New Music” designation and an 8.5 out of 10 rating with the writer raving, “He uses the barest of pop-folk settings to give mundane moments — another break-up, another tour, another change of season, another Dylan comparison — a grandeur so disproportional that it’s difficult not to identify and sympathize with him.”

Recorded during fleeting moments at home in Sweden, the album captures the urgency and immediacy of Matsson’s songs. “I just put up two microphones, one for vocals and one for guitar, and try to get a really good take. After that you can add things, like banjo, but most of the song is recorded in one take,” said Matsson. In a day and age where studio magic so often comes into play, the gritty sound of the two mic recordings is refreshing and forces the listener to remember that these are songs that flow from the soul of their author. “I can’t do it any other way. I’ve tried, but it is really hard for me to get inspired listening to myself play guitar in headphones and sing a good performance of the song.”

In the live setting, Matsson plays this studio limitation as a strength and commands the attention of every eye and ear in the room as he paces the stage and pours himself into every moment of the performance. Despite the almost deafening buzz that follows him, Matsson isn’t taking the wave of success that he is riding for granted for an instant. Aside from the stress of doing press and touring, he is focused on what really matters. “I don’t think it will go to my head because I know that I still have to go on stage and do the best show I’ve ever done and work really hard for that. I can’t really think about reviews and things like that. I know that I need to focus and keep going. I want to make better albums and write even better songs,” he said.

So far on his journey, The Tallest Man on Earth is succeeding in winning over new ears at every turn and while he doesn’t seem to have the time to be lonely, an outstretched hand is always welcome.

:: The Tallest Man On Earth ::

:: Fox Theatre :: May 18 ::

:: Bluebird Theater :: May 19 ::

Recommended if you Like:

• Bob Dylan

• Skip James

• Nick Drake

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