I challenge you to find one review of Swedish folk singer Kristian Matsson’s debut album under the moniker The Tallest Man On Earth that doesn’t make a comparison to Bob Dylan. They may be out there, but I doubt it. I personally have not read any reviews of the record so as to keep from tainting my own opinion, but the Dylan resemblance is inescapable.
“The Blizzard’s Never Seen the Desert Sands” boldly poses as a tune straight from the mouth of a young Dylan. Accompanied by nothing but a banjo, Matsson sings his dense, vaguely religious lyrics in a voice so familiar that the effect is almost eerie. In “The Gardener,” Matsson expands his vocal range somewhat, staying mostly in the previously established Dylan-esque mode, but also sounding at times like Spencer Krug of Wolf Parade or Win Butler of Arcade Fire.
Once your ear becomes accustomed to the Dylan thing (have I mentioned that he sounds like Bob Dylan?), the subtleties of Matsson’s voice begin to come out, and before you know it, you begin to realize that Matsson is doing more actual singing than the young Dylan ever did. His voice was made for this music, and on my second listen to opening track “I Won’t Be Found,” I forgot about the Dylan comparisons completely. Besides, Matsson can’t be criticized too heavily for ripping off Dylan, since Dylan himself has stated that he set out to rip off Woody Guthrie.
After getting through the album a few times, I realized what a great songwriter Matsson is. Sure, he pays homage to Dylan, but he has many other little tricks to show us. And what he shows us is an accomplished folk artist who is able to overcome the inevitable comparisons to a musical icon and craft his own simple, beautiful, and lyrically challenging folk music.
If Bob Dylan were alive today, I think he would be proud.
P.S. Yes, I know Dylan is alive. It was a joke.
P.P.S. Looks like you can stream samples of songs from the album on his website. Listen to “The Blizzard’s Never Seen the Desert Sands” first to really get where I’m coming from with the whole Bob Dylan thing.