IF YOU DON'T MIND, the Tallest Man on Earth (Kristian Matsson) would prefer not to discuss Bob Dylan. Not now, not ever. He's not alone. Rock music is littered with those who would rather remain mute on this topic—the list no doubt includes Bob Dylan himself—so when the subject is broached for the most obvious of reasons (in the best possible way, Matsson really does sounds like Dylan) in the waning minutes of our interview, the already-withdrawn Swedish singer-songwriter grows quiet, then uncomfortable.
"I didn't mind [the comparison] at first," Matsson explains after a pause so long I thought our call had dropped. Matsson's reluctance to broach the topic of the man from Duluth is absolutely justifiable, seeing how no musician wants his or her art to always be linked to an outside influence, no matter how legendary that person might be. But the long shadow of Dylan has blanketed countless singers, from Bruce Springsteen to Steve Forbert, plus any number of the artists reeled off in "Talking New Bob Dylan," Loudon Wainwright III's ode to learning to live with, if not embrace, this very comparison. Of course, none of those aforementioned Dylanites share any major similarities with the Tallest Man on Earth. The Matsson-to-Dylan link is a vocal one, as the Swedish singer channels the same wondrous youthful croak of the Bringing It All Back Home era, a comparison which is rooted in only the most sincere of compliments.
"Sorry if I can't talk about Bob Dylan anymore," Matsson adds. "It becomes the only thing I talk about all the time, and it kind of makes me want to quit.... Okay, so now we're talking about him again. We can move on."
We can. When the listening public uncovered Matsson's 2008 Shallow Grave recording, it was the most welcome of surprises that one could hope to find in the insatiable stumble culture of blog buzz and fleeting waves of hype. At that time, everything about the Tallest Man on Earth was a complete mystery, including his real name, location, and actual height (the latter being a generous exaggeration—Matsson stands a petite 5'9" at best). As more details emerged, questions followed on how a fresh-faced Nordic kid from the rural lands of Dalarna, Sweden could create folk music so heartfelt and authentic that it seemed to have tumbled from some long lost anthology of Harry Smith.
When compared to Shallow Grave, Matsson's Dead Oceans debut recording, The Wild Hunt, is a natural extension of these early folk roots. With a record label checkbook at his disposal, Matsson shunned the temptation to expand his sound or add additional instrumentation. Like his previous work, it's primarily guitar and voice. You'll need little else here. "Burden of Tomorrow" offers a glimpse at the sheer potential of this gorgeously voiced singer, as he only now finds his footing and belts out shimmering notes that once seemed impossible in his quainter, earliest recordings. The all-piano closing number "Kids on the Run" is as close as the Tallest Man on Earth will come to straying, but even that move was a hesitant one. "I kind of forgot about that song and I thought of it in the end of the recording process," Matsson says, explaining the song was his take on the epic school dance ballad.
The pinnacle of The Wild Hunt comes with the rambunctious "King of Spain," a song Matsson previewed at his cuddly fireside show at Rontoms last spring. Both triumphant and glorious, it's the Tallest Man on Earth at his best, even if a particular "Spanish boots of leather" line just might refer to an influence whose name we shall never speak again.