Come on Feel the Illinoise, the second in Sufjan Stevens planned 50-LP homage to each state in the union, is a sprawling, creepy, weepy, sweet, frustratingly long but oddly beautiful confessional journey through the Prairie State. Within its 74 minutes it contains songs about UFO sightings, Mary Todd, Indian wars, union struggles, the day honoring Polish American Revolutionary War hero Casimir Pulaski (incongruously, a song about a girl with bone cancer), serial killer John Wayne Gacy Jr. and, of course, Chicago. (Listen to the choir, the strings, the horns and the drums kick in after Stevens sing, If I was crying in the van/with my friend ... it was for freedom/I made a lot of mistakes/I made a lot of mistakes on the title track.) Like its predecessor, Greetings from Michigan, the Great Lake State, Stevens Illinoise is sprinkled with references to bible studies and quirky geographical sidebars. (On the Michigan record, he detours through Dearborn Heights, Romulus and Hamtramck. Brooklyn-based Stevens grew up in Michigan and attended Hope College in Holland.) There is an incredible literary density to this record, and new information surfaces each time you hear it. Stevens has been compared to novelist Flannery OConnor, which is pretty apt. These are little gothic life and death dramas, as if sung by an obsessive, protestant Paul Simon backed by an exquisite jazz-pop orchestra. Its sublime, tender, overwrought and impossible to ignore.
Appears Sunday, Sept. 11 at Majestic Theater (4140 Woodward, Detroit; 313-833-9700)
Walter Wasacz writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].