In a recent interview, Sufjan Stevens confessed vocal inadequacies: his range is limited; his falsetto is strained; he lacks Patti Smith’s attitude and Willie Nelson’s cliches. However, narrative, he says, saves the music from these weaknesses.
He sells himself short, but Stevens has a point. Like the charcoal drawings decorating his fourth CD, “Seven Swans,” his verbal sketches outline stories, characters and emotions that listeners color in with their own experiences. This understated style has some critics hoping he will replace the late Elliot Smith in the school of intimate indie-folk, but sincerity and a dreamy brand of homegrown Christianity (compared with Smith’s lack of both) put Stevens in an entirely different classroom.
Tales of devotion are accented by banjos, organs and female innocents singing campfire choruses. Like on the track, “Size Too Small,” Stevens blurs the lyrical lines between romantic, filial and faith-based relationships. By combining the love song with the hymn, he transcends both. What could be more spiritual than that?
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