The Tallest Man On Earth, Sometimes The Blues Is Just A Passing Bird, 2010

This 5 track EP was released in September 2010 only a few months after The Wild Hunt. Perhaps the songs here were overflow, unused b-sides, or maybe Matsson was tying up loose ends. For me, it’s the least interesting thing he’s released. Maybe, just maybe, there’ll be a change of some kind for his next album which I hope is due for release in 2012. Meanwhile we get five more tracks of just Matsson and his guitar, songs that are very much in the Tallest Man’s usual mode, but which generally seem  to be more downcast, slower, and more doleful than the animated singer we heard on The Wild Hunt.

Little River… a lovely melancholy arpeggio melody which gets somewhat incongruously ruptured by Matsson’s searing voice singing about the “quiet uplifting laughter.” But he might even be singing to himself: “You just sing about your own death in your closet / You stumble out into the pitch-black hallway / You think you’ve lost so many times though it’s not war yet … / … There is always someone out there who will listen / And then there’s nothing but a dream.” I can’t help feeling this is a little plea to his muse to give him some kind of hope. But the slight melody and the vaguely nostalgic emotion in the tune suggest an unspecifiable yearning for the past. Then we get, “And there is something ’bout the leaving of a lover / You think you knew through all the year’s you’ve been a woman / And he’s stepping out and walks out of the garden.” A description of a past break up with allusions to a garden, recalling ‘The Gardener’ on Shallow Grave. He doesn’t really capture my attention all that much though. Quite obscure lyrics,  song just floats by.

The Dreamer… is much better. Easily the best song here. Has a lovely low burred-edge electric guitar strum, with other little quirky fingerplucked adornments. Matsson’s voice is a thin jagged line above the music: “I’m just a dreamer but I’m hanging on / Though I am nothing big to offer…” soon leading us to the chorus: “Sometimes the blues is just a passing bird / And why can’t that always be / Tossing aside from your birch’s crown / Just enough dark to see / How you’re the light over me.” I get the feeling that the narrator here is thankful for small mercies. The main strummed melody is so low and brooding that this song could be the ‘light over me’ – the fact that he can play this song is his only saving grace – and this makes me imagine that he could be singing to his muse here. The music reminds me of Neil Young from his Le Noise album on a greatly reduced scale, or Matt Sweeney’s awesome guitar sound on Bonnie Prince Billy’s Superwolf album. It’s nice, slow, subdued. Doesn’t try to extend beyond anything it’s not, and that only adds to its quiet understated power.

Like The Wheel… just guitar again, a delicate subtle tune. “Oh I wish I was the sparrow in your kid’s eye / That would fly above your summer all day long… / … And I go ‘Oh my lord, why am I not strong / Like the wheel that keeps / Traveler’s travelling on / Like the wheel that will take you home.”’ This chorus part sounds like a hymn to my ears. In this song he wants to be set free. Seems the wheel that can take you on and take you home is strong, but these are things that are difficult for him to do – he can’t move on, and he can’t go home. The song almost fades out in the middle it gets so quiet. “Where the hell among these mountains will I be?” Matsson’s very much in favour of using the word ‘hell’ as an expletive. It occurs in quite a number of his songs, which I find amusing. Seems like a word associated with a certain kind of moody disposition. Second best song here.

Tangle In This Trampled Wheat… is even more fiddly and delicate and the singing here is nicely moulded to fit around the guitar playing, faster, like water flowing in and around stones, and Matsson’s voice even sort of floats around and eddies about until suddenly his loud sharp rasp shocks you awake, “And I’m not leaving alone.” The way he strings so many words through this song, they almost have a throwaway quality, as if the specific words don’t matter. Maybe I’m just saying that because I can’t grasp much meaning from this, or it’s far too much detail to discern anything tangible in real time review-writing, other than the ‘chorus’ line – “And I’m not leaving alone.” Short and bittersweet. Again, there’s a Will Oldham quality to these songs in their quiet, understated, unambitious folkiness.

Thrown Right At Me…is quite different for a Tallest Man song, almost sounding quite bluesy in places with little slides and warps on the strings. I tell you what this sounds most like – Dylan’s The Times They Are A-Changin’ album, that’s what. This has a similar dry, despondent, dragging quality. “One day, I’ll find just that friend who can see / All this weird beauty / Thrown right at me.” I like that line – weird beauty – Matsson’s lyrics, his amazing songs. This is probably the quietest, sedatest downtempo number in the whole Tallest Man canon. The bent notes are pretty.  As usual, there’s lots of nature in all of these songs. Here we have creeks and rocks, horses and sparrows, snow, valleys, birch trees and a bird. Again, this is the sound of a plaintive pull back to some idealized past. I’ll let Matsson have the last word: “Growin’ by playin’ the valley so wild / And that’s why you’re so beautiful now.”

Click once to expand, again to magnify.

I have to say after the glamour of The Wild Hunt, this is a very subdued kind of record, just five short songs, all of them submerged with a minor key kind of atmosphere, with slightly nostalgic undertones, a touch pouty as always (that’s Matsson’s voice, he can’t help it I suppose) and the finest tinge of regret cast through the whole piece. It’s nice, but none of it really stands out for me as much as his album material. And after numerous spins, the only two songs I can ever remember are ‘The Dreamer’ and ‘Like The Wheel’ both of which would have fit nicely on either of his two albums.

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About Alan Bumstead Vinyl Reviews

Alan Bumstead is a music fanatic who humbly adds confusion to the world with a string of album reviews written during real-time-listening in a stream-of-consciousness style, then edited for spelling, punctuation, flow and grammar. Apart from an additional introductory paragraph, the writing is improvised in time with the music. There is no re-writing. --------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- In his book Moving To Higher Ground Wynton Marsalis says, "Because jazz musicians improvise under the pressure of time, what's inside comes out pure. It's like being pressed to answer a question before you have a chance to get your lie straight. The first thought is usually the truth." I like to think that's what Alan Bumstead's all about.
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