By David Werther.
The Tallest Man on Earth, There’s No Leaving Now (Deep Oceans, 2012)
The Tallest Man on Earth is not. At 5’ 7” Kristian Matsson is no giant, at least in terms of physique. But, when it comes to artistic stature, he's a towering figure who casts a long shadow. NPR listeners ranked There’s No Leaving Now (hereafter NLN) among the top 25 CDs of the year, and NPR put it in its top-ten list of Folk and Americana releases for 2012.
NLN is pretty much a one-man show; Matsson wrote, performed and recorded all of the songs, save for some bass (Mats Winkvist) and drums (Nicolas Nordin). The recording features fine lyrics (“I was more than just a coward; I was handsome too”), in fit musical settings (mostly acoustic guitar), with arresting vocals. Matsson sings with great conviction and fine diction. Oddly, often the message appears obscure. One is left wondering, “Exactly what is it that this performer is so passionate about?” On this score, if we can believe him, we are in good company, for Matsson has gone on record stating, "I wish I could be a better story teller or something but, because I only kind of understand what they're about through all the absurd, chaotic imagery, I think it's better for the listener to make up their own mind anyway. Nothing's written in stone." *
Understanding admits of degrees. In one sense, then, I am willing to accept Matsson’s claim, “I only kind of understand.” After all, a less than complete understanding is part of the human condition. But, in another sense, I am skeptical. The understatement in “only kind of understand” belies the passion in Matsson’s performances. If Matsson knows significantly more than he's sharing, then he is capable of delivering even more. If so, this superb artist could be capable of a truly landmark recording, not just a best of 2012, but a best of an entire era.