- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 30, 2004

His band wears Boy Scout uniforms, and he sings enigmatic, heartbroken and hopeful songs about Michigan and God. That we know.

What’s less clear is where Sufjan Stevens’ fans come from. Somehow, though, word has spread about his unique sound and lyrics. The 29-year-old singer-songwriter played to a full house at the Black Cat last Wednesday night.

Mr. Stevens, a Christian, creates semiconfusion with his approach to the Divine. He’s not disturbingly happy. Some of his lyrics are overtly religious, but his presentation, in recordings and in concert, is decidedly indirect.

There’s a spirit of mourning in his vocal-driven songs featuring prominent horn playing and banjo strumming. Yet Mr. Stevens is quirky — so quirky, in fact, that he included his song “Super Sexy Woman” in his set.

His goal is to record at least 49 more albums, one for each state. So far, he has done only one state-themed album, about Michigan, in addition to three others recorded since 1999.

Mr. Stevens mirrored his Michigan Militia band in his choice of attire, wearing a University of Michigan hat and an American flag handkerchief around his neck and a blue Scout uniform. Throughout his set, he made skillful use of quiet banjo or acoustic guitar early in his songs, a style gradually broken by steady drumming and carried along by his soothing but discordant voice.

Mr. Stevens played a moving, unique version of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” adding some verses of his own that spoke of “the Blood of the Lamb.” He also drove the tempo up before slowing back down for the last two verses.

It’s not clear whether Mr. Stevens has intentionally fuzzed over his Christian beliefs to win secular music fans or whether it’s his vision itself that is somewhat muddled. Either way, he’s an artist to watch — hopefully, for many years to come.

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