Kristian Matsson, the Swedish singer-songwriter who plays under the moniker The Tallest Man On Earth, stands comfortably at average height. If you are well versed in the Tallest Man’s lyrics and music, you know that the moniker comes from The Gardner and is a better representation of his vocal stage presence instead of his height. His distinct, unafraid voice eerily channels Bob Dylan – a soul and sound that isn’t easily imitable – to the point where listeners may question which artist they are actually listening to. Even though he continued the electric experimentation that began on the last album There’s No Leaving Now, the Tallest Man’s latest release is jam packed with elements of Tom Petty and George Harrison. This Traveling Wilbury’s direction may not be the true, raw folk sound we were expecting, but it’s definitely an improvement from the last record.
The electric sound is first heard as backup effects for the first track Fields Of Our Home. These effects are a new addition to a Tallest Man album and were never added on previous songs that were only voice and acoustic. The tune has an upbeat rhythm and chord progression but fails to dazzle fans with the exciting fingerpicking from older songs like I Won’t Be Found and Steal Tomorrow.
The next track, Darkness Of The Dream, begins with subtle studio effects in the background of an acoustic progression and when the drums surface we are presented with a full band Tallest Man sound for the very first time. In the bridge he sings, “I’m sure I’ll sleep when all this goes under, but now will I sleep alone,” over a muffled drumbeat to add the effect of uncertainty.
The first key track on the album is the third song, Singers. With electrified fingerpicking it definitely fits in the singer-songwriter genre versus the more fluidly electrified full band sound. The warm, gentle tones of a clarinet blend in with the electric guitar halfway through the song adding a soothing vibe.
Slow Dance is a tune that die-hard Tallest Man fans should probably skip on over to first because it possesses that familiar, upbeat, energetic-strumming rhythm that fries your brain with excitement. Another key track is Little Nowhere Towns a beautiful piano piece complete with triplets and heavy jazz syncopation. On previous studio piano songs, Matsson has only played very basic rhythms, but for this album he has shown a major skill level increase, transferring those complex guitar rhythms to the piano.
Sagres gives us more of a Traveling Wilbury’s vibe and a folk-pop George Harrison optimism. The vocal melody is extremely similar to his older song Like The Wheel. Track number seven, Timothy, is dedicated to Strand Of Oaks frontman Timothy Showalter, who recovered from a terrible automobile accident. He sings “Timothy we’re waking up to a healing mind,” presenting the strength and power his close friend possesses.
Another track that fans probably should skip directly to is Beginners. Finally, the acoustic fingerpicking Tallest Man On Earth we’ve been waiting for to bounce back from the last album. The chorus explodes with studio embellishments that light up listeners’ ears. The album ends with the title track, a simple acoustic chord progression that remains quiet until suddenly the full band sound surfaces for the big finish. Between the dedication to Timothy and venting the demise of his marriage, “I fell in love but keep on falling, I held you for life. Letting go of rope in hand there’s just leaving now” Dark Bird Is Home is a very personal and sentimental album for The Tallest Man On Earth. Will he ever release another album as acoustic and exciting from start to finish like the first two? Will there ever be another Gardner sounding single? The answer lies within the title track of his fourth full-length release. “This is not the end. No, this is fine.”
Scott J. Herman