If you're like me, you haven't heard much exciting folk music in the last few years. Despite the recent emergence of songwriters like Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) and Robin Pecknold (Fleet Foxes), it often seems like a mere handful of contemporary artists truly display the same amount of earthiness and warmth that was so prominently exhibited by the stars of the sixties folk revival.
However, one artist who does separate himself from the pack is Kristian Matsson, aka the Tallest Man on Earth. Since he released his self-titled EP in 2006, the 27-year-old Swede has been one of the most exciting young folk artists of our generation.
Released four months on the heels of his sophomore full-length The Wild Hunt, Sometimes the Blues is Just a Passing Bird features five songs written in the midst of Matsson's spring/summer 2010 tour.
Whether writing on the road is more difficult for him or not, it's justifiable to say that the songs here are as strong as anything in the Tallest Man catalog. The melodies are pliant, the guitar playing is euphonic, and many of the lyrics are nature inspired and downright beautiful; some lines read like something Robert Frost would have written if he lived in Matsson's mountainous Scandinavian homeland. Despite that, most of the tracks here are lightly tinged with somberness, but Matsson's croaky voice is comforting enough to brighten even the most melancholy images.
Up until this point, Matsson has only been accompanied by his acoustic guitar, save for the occasional banjo and piano. But on the second track of the album, "The Dreamer," he employs an electric guitar for the first time. It's an unexpected turn after the delicate fingerpicking of opener "Little River," but an exciting and effective change nonetheless.
Matsson's sound has frequently been compared to the early work of Bob Dylan, but while the comparisons are still apt, it's clear that he has become very comfortable with his own artistic identity. His consistency just might be the most exciting thing about him; release after release, he's delivered batch after batch of strong tracks. It may be a stretch to say that Matsson could single-handedly replenish the contemporary folk scene, but it seems clear to me that he's going to be near the forefront of that scene for years to come.