The Tallest Man on Earth

Mattson fingerpicks melodies with sprinter's speed but never loses a nimble grace
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PREVIEW In strictly literal terms, the Tallest Man on Earth's Kristian Mattson is not the tallest man on the globe. He is probably the Best Bob Dylanesque Tall Dude on Earth, and also perhaps the Tallest New Swedish Musical Talent on Earth, but I suppose those monikers wouldn't have quite the same ring. Along with no-nonsense yet playful songwriting chops, one of the things I find most fetching about his debut album Shallow Grave (Gravitation, 2008) is its direct zest. Mattson fingerpicks melodies with sprinter's speed but never loses a nimble grace. The Tallest Man on Earth toured the U.S. with the equally austere Bon Iver recently, but I have to say I prefer Mattsson's energetic acoustic spirit to the comparative mope of Bon Iver leader Justin Vernon. Shallow Grave's gloomy title is a bit misleading — on one of its signature tunes, "I Won't Be Found," the underground dwelling is a quite lively mole hole.

The keening nasality of Mattson's vocals are his most overt link to the Dylan tradition. His songs traverse comparatively narrow territory though, bypassing societal commentary for explorations of emotion and more intimate human relationships. In lesser hands, such intent yields forgettable schmaltz — or worse yet, the kind of music you want to forget and can't. But Mattson avoids sentimentality and vagary through earthy imagery and a vital energy that avoids easy softness. The sonic equivalent of a splash of ice-cold water on one's face in the morning, his songs are a bracing alternative to the melancholy brooding of his countryman José Gonzalez. The Tallest Man on Earth is also a contender for the Handsomest Tall Man with a Ceiling-Scraping Pompadour on Earth, a factor that can't possibly hurt him as a live draw.

THE TALLEST MAN ON EARTH With Nathaniel Rateliff and the Wheel. Thurs/2, 8 p.m., $12–$24. The Independent, 628 Divisadero, SF. (415) 771-1421. www.independentsf.com

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