Swedish folkie shows us how it’s done

By Daniel Fishbayn

Let’s get this out of the way first: Kristian Mattson, a.k.a. The Tallest Man on Earth, is only 5’7. The moniker, as anwers.com so astutely observes, is meant to be ironic. A less obvious irony is that this Swedish troubadour, poeticizing in his second language of English, and recording on a Swedish indie label, released earlier this year an album with more PFE (Pure Folk Energy) and more “American Heart” in it than any American or Canadian folk album in recent memory. You see, Mattson has a big voice, a big sound, and a big heart for just one man, and he’s proud of that fact. As far as he’s concerned, he is the tallest man on earth.

On The Wild Hunt, his second LP, he maintains his stripped-down style; aside from the occasional banjo and a single piano tune, it consists of only Mattson’s scorching, soul-screaming vocals, accompanied by his exemplary guitar playing. His fingerpicking is particularly nimble, and it adds another savoury component to the whole. Take “Troubles Will Be Gone”, where the guitar is so sweetly and precisely intoned that it almost outshines the vocals. Likewise, “Thousand Ways” displays a beautiful melody that is upheld perfectly by the humble base of the guitar.

Indeed, this soulful record has many attractions, but it’s always the wonderful vocal melodies that make the music remarkably easy to love. Clearly saturated in the spine-tingling airs of early Bob Dylan and Graceland-era Paul Simon, Mattson’s melodies ramble tenderly around his delicate plucks, until, just at the right moment, they shoot up high and blaze a burning path through your heart. For instance, on the rumbling “King of Spain”, Mattson holds back at first, but when he unleashes the full power of his gravelly voice, it’s clear that he’s baring his tortured soul.

Upon closer listening, it becomes obvious that, like his influences, Mattson isan original lyrical genius. His words, still animated, though processed through his endearing Swedish accent, ring out like desperate cries in the night, sometimes yearning for love or recognition, other times full of sad regret, but always brimming with emotional power. He writes in cryptic and figurative snippets of reflection; on the title track he croons: “I left my heart to the wild hunt a-comin/I live until the call/And I plan to be forgotten when I’m gone/Yes I’ll be leavin’ in the fall.” In other words, he leaves it to the listener to decide whether he is feeling victimized and used, or whether he is coming to terms with death, or if we should just stop thinking about it and enjoy the words for their connotative power.

With a continuous stream of catchy tracks that are full of depth, this is a very impressive piece of work, and it reveals an artist with immense confidence in himself reaching maturity. You won’t easily find a music maker who can produce a full, achingly beautiful sound all by himself. However,  on The Wild Hunt, The Tallest Man on Earth manages it with passion to spare.

Check him out at http://www.myspace.com/thetallestmanonearth