The Tallest Man on Earth
The Wild Hunt
This album comes out on April 16 and is by Swedish singer-songwriter, Kristian Masson. (Has anyone written about the recent propensity of solo artists to give themselves band-like names? Cat Power; Joan as Policewoman; Florence and the Machine etc. Interesting.) Anyway, this album has really grown on me over the last few weeks and I’m thinking that I’d like to see the guy in concert too.
First things first. Yes, he was obviously subjected to heavy and repeated in-the-womb exposure to Bob Dylan. I’m guessing his mum clamped headphones on her pregnant belly and played Bringing It All Back Home and Blood on the Tracks to him from the moment of conception. Dylan is clearly in the guy’s DNA and there is no sense denying the influence. At first blush, it struck me as hopelessly derivative, but I soon got over that, though maybe some people won’t be able to, and I guess that’s just something Masson will have to live with.
But let’s examine it.
Initially I thought the similarity derived from the voice. Masson has one of those kind of screechy, bad/good voices in the Dylan folk tradition and, as much as I now enjoy the album, the voice was a bit of an acquired taste. But really, his singing doesn’t sound that much like El Bobarooney. If anything, he’s more like, say, Robert Hiatt, and I think if you like Hiatt you will probably like The Tallest Man on Earth.
The real similarity between Masson and Dylan is in the cadences of the singing and the songs themselves. He clips that capo halfway up the neck of his guitar and fingerpicks his way through a catalogue of songs that have learnt well from the master, from the way Dylan constructs a song. They are melodic ballads full of sweeping vocal turns as the singer tries to fit in all the words he is trying to say.
The opening track, ‘The Wild Hunt’ is a classic case in point. A platform of simple chords provides the structure for a rollicking singing performance that would not sound out of place on just about any Dylan album up to and including Blood. But it isn’t just impersonation: it is more like interpretation, or even, critical reassessment. This album is a young man, learning from his forebears, and it is full of that young-man energy and groping for his own voice. All the tracks here exhibit the same quality, and there isn’t a bad one amongst them.
So look, forget all the commentary about him being Dylanesque (despite me having spent the entire review talking about almost nothing else). He is Dylanesque, big time, but these are good songs, performed simply and with real energy and urgency. I reckon you might like it.