Those who have been with Picky Bastards for the long haul will know that I love The Tallest Man On Earth. On the very first episode of our miserable music podcast, I spoke about him in the Why I Love section and my admiration for the man and his music has not dimmed in the intervening years. He could sing a grocery list and I’d be in heaven. That said, when he announced that his first full release in three years was to be an album of cover songs, I wasn’t overly excited. Do we really need this? Lockdowns and isolation seem to have inspired a raft of similar LPs and EPs – artists who are normally relentlessly writing their own music finding the time to delve through their collections, connecting to songs again and wanting to put their own versions out into the world. I get it. I would guess that Tallest Man’s inspiration came from the many livestreams he did, ending each of them with a seemingly endless parade of requests from listeners. These covers sounded great in that format, and the livestreams got me through many a boring evening trying to avoid the lurgy. But now, with things back to relative normality, why bother releasing this collection?
I honestly can’t answer that question. Despite that, though, I do have to say that I’m really glad he released this when he did. These aren’t covers in the form that we are used to. When Tallest Man covers ‘In My Life’ by The Beatles or ‘Metal Firecracker’ by Lucinda Williams, it doesn’t sound like someone having a quick crack at a classic or two. It sounds like Tallest Man, making a natural evolution from where he left off on the last album. These sound like his own songs, and it is only when you listen hard to the lyrics that you realise you already know them.
For evidence of how successful he is here, I look towards versions of two songs by other favourite artists of mine. Halfway through the album, we are treated to a sumptuous, sombre version of ‘Blood Bank’ by Bon Iver. The connection between these two artists is a long running one – it was a support slot on a Bon Iver tour that gave The Tallest Man On Earth the attention that really broke him as an artist in the US and UK. And while you can hear the love and respect for the original all through this song, it is made totally his own and feels much more contemplative and thoughtful. It’s gorgeous. ‘Pink Rabbits’ by The National gets a similar interpretation. From one of the Ohio band’s grandest, fullest songs we are given a bare bones, vocally dynamic, and haunting song that sounds like something totally new. Granted, the original is not one of my favourites by The National – but I’m in love with the cover.
Probably more impressive, though, is how Tallest Man breathes new life into, and makes me enjoy, songs by artists that usually have me reaching for the skip button. See The Beatles one mentioned above. Or, as another example, look at the emphatically beautiful ‘Tears Are In Your Eyes’ which is normally performed by a band I like to call Bore La Tengo. All of that said, this album is not pushing any new ground. Given that it is not his own songs, it will probably only be a minor entry in the Tallest Man discography. But if you fancy half an hour of gorgeously crafted songs that you might already know the words to, sung and played by one of the best voices in the business, then you could do much worse than Too Late For Edelweiss.
Words by Fran Slater