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In nearly every respect, Swedish troubadour Kristian Matsson's second full-length outing as the Tallest Man on Earth is a direct continuation of the stripped-down roots folk style he introduced on his debut -- an album that was deeply, unambiguously steeped in rural American folk tradition but also the product of a strong singular vision and voice. Arguably the most significant difference this time out is the wider stateside distribution that The Wild Hunt will enjoy thanks to its presence on Dead Oceans, and, hopefully, an attendant increase in exposure. It's richly deserved: even if -- as may initially seem to be the case -- this album offered nothing more than another ten songs cut from Shallow Grave's rough-hewn yet rarefied cloth, it would be considerable cause for celebration; for an ostensible one trick pony, Matsson's got a hell of a trick. But he's more than that: his distinctive gifts as a songwriter are more than equal to his undeniable flair as a musical stylist, and if the uncanny anachronistic effect of his work isn't quite as revelatory the second time around, this set offers the subtler treat of hearing an artist carve out further space for personal nuance and expression within an already well-established approach. Careful listening reveals a newfound looseness and emotional range here, particularly in the vocals, with tender moments like the sweetly sung "Love Is All" and bittersweet relationship dissection "The Drying of the Lawns" balancing the typically visceral, nearly strident delivery of songs like "You're Going Back" and jaunty highlight "King of Spain" (which wryly tips a hat to Matsson's most undeniable forerunner with its reference to "boots of Spanish leather"). Lyrically, too, his writing has grown somewhat more lucid and expressive, with even his characteristically poetic evocations of the natural world connecting on a more human and relatable level than past abstractions (from "Burden of Tomorrow": "I'm just a blind man on the plains/I drink my water when it rains/And live by chance among the lightning strikes"). Still, The Wild Hunt could hardly be called a reinvention. Save for the unexpectedly Springsteen-esque closer, "Kids on the Run," wherein Matsson trades in his trusty six-string for a piano, anything here could have slotted neatly onto Shallow Grave. And that's no trouble at all: when you sound like virtually nobody else out there, it's hard to complain about more of the same.
Review by K. Ross Hoffman
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