There was a concerted effort to not use Bob Dylan and Kristian Matsson, a.k.a. The Tallest Man On Earth, in the same sentence when Matsson broke out with his 2010 album The Wild Hunt. The comparisons, while vocally and musically obvious, proved (and still do prove) too facile and tenuous to totally work. However one thing that is worth noting is the juxtaposition of Dylan’s and Matsson’s album output early in their careers. Dylan dropped albums like Catholic Twins early in his career, moving swiftly from trad-folk protest songs to rebellious garage blues to introspective twang — always pushing forward charged with the zeitgeist of the 60’s and surrounding himself with a cabal of musicians from The Hawks to The Band and the entire Greenwich Village scene at the time. This, and much, much more, happened all in about the first six years of Dylan’s career.
Matsson functions differently. He’s more autonomous — secluded somewhere in his home country of Sweden with each album consisting of little more than his nasal drawl, dextrous finger picking on an acoustic guitar, and sparse accompaniment. Compared to Dylan’s eight LP’s, Matsson now has three, bolstered by two strong EPs of hyper-consistent songwriting. On There’s No Leaving Now, Matsson lolls on down the same path he’s been a-walkin’, careless of the destination or the speed of life around him. The sound is more dampened than his previous recordings, even though it sometimes features more studio arrangements than any of his previous works, almost (but not quite) making good use of an eight-track recorder. The deliberate pacing he choses — both musically and career-wise — does little favor for his disconnected nature metaphors that make up the brick and mortar of his songs. All the romantic imagery, the roses, the rivers, the wind, the walls soon run together and become desaturated.
Though individually, those little images are such pretty things that pass you by as the album tours about. They elicit something out of time, neither past, present or future, in a small corner of the world where Matsson longs for some peace and quiet. At the end of “Wind and Walls”, he subtly lets us know that “I’ll be best when the silence comes.” He’s still a peerless doter, and “Leading Me Now” offers some of the most direct and ultimately best narratives on the album, borrowing similar love epithets from his still-pinnacle “The Dreamer”, off his Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird EP. It’s something as simple as, “And you’ll give me the look of thorns we give liars every night/ but I get you somehow…” that ends up leaving the lasting impressions long after the album’s over.
With the pace slowed and the production values erratic and eroding, Matsson’s pep gives way to plaintiveness — and while he can contemplate an unknown force that shook the Earth in “1904”, the imagery often takes hair-pin turns from one slice of pleasant rural nature to another. It’s dizzying trying to follow along, and without the wit or buoyancy found on The Wild Hunt, songs like “To Just Grow Away” and “Criminals” politely breeze by, leaving us with insufferable riddles instead of evocative stories.
On The Wild Hunt, Matsson used to be the dreamer who was “the fire on the mountain” promising her, “If I don’t get you in the morning, by the evening I sure will.” Now he’s the dreamer whose world has shrunk to a paler reality. Instead of angling to usurp the King Of Spain, it seems like he only wants to go for walks on his property. And now he asks her, “Will there be time to harvest rivers that for so long refused to grow?” on the title track — a beautiful, solo-piano ballad. His raspy voice still aches and arches over the songs and caries his wandering soul and eager heart, but near every other facet of There’s No Leaving Now is compressed, leaving a much smaller impression than his previous albums. I’d weigh this fact less in the balance, but it took two years for The Tallest Man On Earth to make this record. It’s only here that I wish Matsson would be more like Dylan and chose adventure over meditation — and be quick about it.
Essential Tracks: “Revelation Blues”, ”There’s No Leaving Now”, and “Leading Me Now”
Feature artwork by Drew Litowitz.