The Tallest Man on Earth
By Heather Wible
June 12, 2012
Heather Wible lives in sunny Cleveland, Ohio, where she spends her days eating, drinking and being merry. She can also be found from time to time on stage with the Erie Philharmonic or behind the bar at Starbucks, handcrafting perfect beverages.
Full of beautiful sounds, picked guitar and poetic lyrics, There’s No Leaving Now, the newest album from The Tallest Man on Earth, proves the adage “less is more.” The third full-length studio release for the 29-year-old Kristian Mattson does use a few more sounds in its production than his previous guitar-and-voice-only records, but the effect is the same: It’s about the music and nothing else. From the initial notes and gentle sway of “To Just Grow Away” through the poignant piano in the title track to the South American ease of “On Every Page,” even a heavily burdened heart can find a bit of rest in sunshine or the solace of a like-minded stranger.
Although the 5’9” Mattson hails from Sweden, his musical heritage pulls much more from Americana folk roots. Everything about Mattson’s music puts him in line with Bob Dylan and the like—even down to the distinctive gravelly voice. It is that voice which is often the attention-grabber, but even behind the voice is excellent guitar work and well-written lyrics. Those lyrics come from a place of honesty, as Mattson frequently writes of real-life struggles and experiences. While previous albums have dealt with themes of nature and running away, as the title indicates, this album is about what it takes to stick it out and stay put. "This whole album is about wanting to stay and deal with your own weaknesses and wanting to deal with your anxieties and stuff," Mattson says in an interview with NPR. Since his last release, Mattson has married Amanda Bergman, also a Swedish singer-songwriter who uses the moniker Idiot Wind and with whom he has toured frequently.
The 10 songs on There’s No Leaving Now are perfectly paced to lead the listener on a well-rounded journey of a normal life. Maybe that’s what is so attractive about Mattson and his music. There is no sense of pretense or false views of self or the world. Sometimes it can be restful to admit you’re only one person and leave it at that. Melancholic tracks like “Revelation Blues,” “Bright Lanterns,” and “There’s No Leaving Now” lie nestled between more hopeful songs like “Leading Me Now” and “Criminals.” Even to call the first group melancholic is to speak more to the content of the songs than the sound of them since each of them still features quite a bit of motion in the guitar parts. The title track is the only one featuring a warm piano sound and the only one with a significant tempo and feel change. As such, it’s also the one that leaves the biggest impression.
While the album is straightforward, that's not to say there’s not more than meets the eye. I have found myself becoming more and more fond of this album with each listen, almost as if each time through, it tells me a new secret and lets me in a little deeper. There’s a lap steel part in “Bright Lanterns” that I didn’t pay attention to the first time through and a lovely clarinet line in “Revelation Blues.” “Little Brother” has gradually become my favorite track, as it paints a picture of a caring older brother imparting some final words of wisdom on his younger counterpart before going down his own path. Mattson’s grizzly voice is not necessarily pleasing to every ear, and the vocal quality may outweigh the few lyrics you can understand—as it frequently does for me—but where the album wins me over is its overall feel, which is one of poetry and beauty and honesty. Mattson isn’t doing anything new with his music, but what he is doing, he’s doing well.