The Tallest Man On Earth is the stage name for Swedish folk singer-songwriter, Kristian Matsson. Often regarded as a new-age Bob Dylan of sorts, Matsson strings together beautiful folk tunes through witty, metaphoric lyricism and intrinsic guitar work often played in a variety of open tunings. Every one of his albums he’s recorded at his home in Sweden—the guitar and vocals often performed together in order to capture the authenticity that is so apparent in all his songs. His charismatic performances, from the largest to tiniest of venues, animate his lyrics and stories to the point where his audiences can visualize them on the stage surrounding him and engulfing everyone in the room. Following an EP and two albums, The Tallest Man On Earth released an EP in 2010 entitled, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird. A little record comprising of five songs about yearning for home and what can be found there, Matsson shows us that those who wander will eventually return to what they originally left—even if it’s only for just a little while.
“Well there is something about the quiet, uplifting laughter—you’ve spent so many years chased by a cloud.” After a few trickles of guitar notes, this is the first line we hear from the raspy voice of Matsson on the opening track, “Little River.” The lyrics revolve around a conversation in which the speaker is trying to help out a friend who’s feeling down and out about life. The imagery of the line where the speaker’s friend is singing about his own death in his closet is so vivid that you’re seemingly thrown into the situation yourself—trying to convince your friend that you have to own your life and find all the diamonds buried within it. Matsson reflects on these conversations and produces a song in response to all his friend’s woes with his usual beautiful guitar licks and pleading voice.
The title of this EP derives from a line in the chorus of the next track, “The Dreamer.” What’s significant about this song, in terms of Matsson’s entire catalogue, is that it’s the first time he uses an electric guitar instead of his standard acoustic. Listening to the record that followed this one, There’s No Leaving Now, it’s clear that Matsson was beginning to alter the sound of his folk project to give it more variety. What comes from this ‘experimentation’ is a beautiful ballad about finding your way through the low points in life and holding on to the truism that whatever terrible stupors we fall in will eventually be followed by moments of ecstasy and the great dawn of embracing life. There’s also a continuation of the theme that others are sometimes needed for us to get out of these valleys with the line, “just enough dark to see how you’re the light over me.”
What follows is a lonesome ballad, “Like the Wheel,” which displays the toll of wanderlust and the inevitable yearning for home (whatever that may be). The image you get from the line, “On this Sunday someone’s sitting down to wonder, ‘Where the hell among these mountains will I be?’” is impeccable as it captures the solitude and wonder of being a traveling troubadour that’s continuously running from one end of the earth to the other—never settling or having a moment’s rest. Matsson continues to show how lost he is in “Tangle in This Trampled Wheat,” with a guitar melody that could send you off dreaming. “And so many days of longing now—why should it ever this be far…And sometimes I’m just a tangle in this trampled wheat. Circling like a losing dog. If just tonight that I could be where you are near and just forget where I am lost.” These two lines are pinnacle to understanding Matsson’s weariness—his tired eyes that have seen road after road (as the guy toured his ass off earlier in his career). But through this weariness, the drudgery of being on the road and constantly running, there is a glimmer of hope with the line, “I’m not leaving alone.”
Such a glimmer is nurtured with the delicate love ballad, “Thrown Right At Me.” Matsson often sings this live with his wife, Amanda Hollingby Matsson (known by her stage name, Idiot Wind), which is so appropriate because it feels like this song was written back home in Matsson’s Swedish kitchen (which is what’s on the cover of the EP). It’s void of the urgency that usually dominates the majority of his work, which is fitting because the search for stability is seemingly fulfilled by finding a lover, instead of a specific place, to call ‘home.’
Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird wrestles with the lows that can often be found when spending months on the road. But when discussing these lows, The Tallest Man On Earth refuses to be small and indulge in self-loathing—he merely discusses these ideas so we can better understand the peaks that can be reached after being stuck down in the valleys. Indeed, there is a sense of optimism in all of these songs, as if Matsson knows he’ll get back home someday, and that he has someone there—waiting for him—to come home to.