Run For Cover is a weekly music column comparing cover songs to the original version. Prepare for a major bending of rules as we hear musicians throw around genres, tempos, style, and intent. Whether they’re picking up another’s song out of respect or boredom, the results have impressed us.
Bob Dylan is the man and the moniker that changed music for every decade to follow. Born in Minnesota in 1941 as Robert Allen Zimmerman, the curly-haired boy grew up in his town’s close-knit Jewish community. Most afternoons were spent listening to the radio after school, soaking up the early blues and country pouring out of its speakers. When old enough, he formed a band with his friends to perform Elvis Presley covers and Little Richard impersonations. Years later, he dropped out of college, moved to New York City, and found his rightful place within Greenwich Village, the home of his history. As much as he’s contributed to folk and songwriting as a whole, it’s his voice that’s still ringing after all these years.
Oh, how that voice changed the world.
When he rose to mainstream popularity in the ’60s, it was the way he spoke about political activism and social unrest that gave his words more depth. He often repudiated journalists’ suggestions that he was the spokesperson for his generation. Ask anyone growing up at the time, though, and half are likely to say he was. Anti-war movements blasted “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin'” then, and they’re still blaring through speakers today.
In 1966, Bob Dylan released his massive double-album Blonde On Blonde. It’s striking folk and country rock stylings shocked the scene. Dylan got electric, and folk purists were infuriated. Double-digit timestamps and instrumental songs were casually stuffed into the record. Squat in the middle of it all is “I Want You”. Released first as a single in June of 1966 and then on that year’s staggering creative streak LP, the song is a warm, fluid, bright number that sees Dylan lock his eyes on one lucky gal.
The Tallest Man on Earth sprung to life with the same Dylan-esque charm as many other singer-songwriters, but the guitarist’s nasally voice and scratchy throat are more than an impersonation. He sings with the heart of a grandfather sitting on 1000 stories to tell. His lyrics prove he has a good number of those already. Born in Sweden in 1983, Krisitan Matsson grew up on early American folk, including Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie, and started recording his on material in 2006. Live, he’s a charmer. And no, he’s not tall. He’s actually rather short.
As similar as his voice is to Dylan’s, Matsson has created his own path that proves imitation isn’t his thing.
He records and produces the records in his house, keeping the connection between his voice and guitar strong by recording them together, rarely separating the two to boast their specificites. That blended sound lends itself towards a raw, live feel. For 2008’s Shallow Grave and 2010’s The Wild Hunt, that certainly works best. On his newest LP, Dark Bird Is Home, he ropes in a whole slew of additional instruments–strings, horns, percussion–with surprising ease, showing he, too, can do arrangements if he pleases.
Way back in 2009, he stopped by Daytrotter to do a live session (which you can download here). To this day, I still think it’s his best. Matsson did the usual brief intro stating his name to the listener, and then launched into a teaser into to “This Wind”. It starts slowly, riffs echoing, before he speeds things up, plowing through “Shallow Grave” immediately after. Sandwiched between those and his touching piano ballad “I Won’t Be Found” is a Bob Dylan cover. The brief, three-minute “I Want You” is about as straightforward as lyrics get, but the way he sings them leaves you mystified regardless.
As good as The Tallest Man on Earth is at fingerpicking, he latches on to his vocals to make the cover stand out. There’s emotions there, and they’re full of life. As he speeds up on banjo, plucking with an unprecedented speed, its the way he lets his throat rip with a howling note that feels like the slippery slope of falling in love in a joyous rapid descent. Dylan’s arrangement is far richer and ambitious. In that, the emotion shines through instrumentally. His vocals, while iconic, lack the rambunctious, wild, naive energy that makes The Tallest Man on Earth’s version so universal — and so capable of making you swoon.