Comparisons can often beset and sometimes haunt performers. ForKristian Matsson, aka The Tallest Man On Earth, it’s seeminglyunshakable: Bob Dylan. It might be lazy and supremely facile,like saying The Quran is just like The Bible because they both happento be books, but such labels can stick. Yet being lauded in such termshas helped the Swedish singer/songwriter’s profile riseexponentially – and deservedly – with him recently supporting BonIver and rapidly climbing the festival bill food chain on thestrength of his engaging solo performances.
The compliment that’s really being paid when the D-word is mentionedis that Matsson has managed to make primarily acoustic, roots musicdistinctive. Yes, it might be marked by a grizzled vocal scrape and averbose lyric, but in the most unforgiving genre where artists standor fall on the strength of songwriting chops, Matsson is – with noapologies for the obvious use of his stage name – head and shouldersabove the field. There’s No Leaving Now, his third album, is anotherpristine entry in an increasingly polished repertoire of beguilingsongs. It’s absolutely captivating from first note to last.
Matsson uses the songs to render comparisons finally redundant as keyelements of his sound are now immutable and unique. His guitar playingis nothing short of a tiny phenomenon; complex but playful andrambunctious, it’s given full range on the record. Criminals displayshis mastery, all sinuous arpeggios, so effortless it feels jazzy attimes, while Leading Me Now romps along fantastically on spry, offbeatcountry picking. Then there’s his voice. Gravelly, yes, but equallykeening and airy, it reflects both the earth and the sky that hissongs are so enthralled by. Allied to his method of recording at homewhere guitar and vocals are captured in the same take, the two combineto make a startlingly pure performance; one element inseparable from andinforming the other.
As impressive as the execution is, it would only guarantee sideshowappeal were it not for the material it underpins. Mattson’ssongwriting might have standard form, but it’s also too slippery topin down; not folksy stroll or pop bombast, neither littered withoblique wordplay nor straight-ahead confessionals. It runs fathomsdeep with charisma – the songs feel like curious artefacts recentlyunearthed from some hillside, still covered in loam. Their qualitiesmay well be earthy, rammed with imagery and substance, but meaningsare as elusive as clouds, present but out of reach. They merely hintat the universals: the promise of hope, of unconditional love, ofacceptance, and inspire more rapt attention as a result.
Still, there’s no laurel resting. Like any auteur, and in keeping withthe rolling, beautiful natural imagery that the record is steeped in,there’s a restless exploration; the LP a quiet evolution of asignature sound. The new widescreen elements pick up the baton fromprevious EP Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird, where Matssonhad the temerity to pick up an electric guitar (Judas!) and the changeis still careful, phased and elliptical. To Just Grow Away kicks inwith a woozy transept whisper of a band; gossamer drums and gentleorgan underpinning a typically gorgeous melody. Revelation Bluesextends the pattern and picks up the pace, inserting woodwind into themix, and 1904 bathes in warm organ and flecks of electricguitar.
Yet it’s the title track that’s the show-stopper. A piano ledmasterpiece at the centre of the record, Matsson’s voice rings outfearlessly and plaintively in an inspiring, beautiful listen thatlives long in the memory. They say that trying to stand alone is themost fatal thing a man can do, and this should be especially truegiven the comparisons heaved onto Mattson’s shoulders. Yet he’sactually doing quite nicely, comfortably transcending expectations tomake the record of his career. There’s No Leaving Now is a compellinglisten from a songwriter whose default setting is extraordinary. Withmystique to spare, it’s a record to cherish.