The second in his seemingly futile undertaking to release a record dedicated to each American State, Illinoise
- or to give it it's full irony-soaked title, Come On Feel The Illinoise
- follows 2003's sparklingly affecting Michigan.
And clocking in at more than 75 minutes long, this isn't a man who does things by halves. However the sheer brilliance of Illinoise
, like Michigan
before it, is just another scrap of proof that, in Stevens, we have one of the finest songwriters of our time.
He may have 48 states still on his list (I'm personally looking forward to a scathing, poseur-baiting California
), but these are not records sloppily knocked out to make a quick buck. By the time you get to the end of the record you could be forgiven for thinking you'd just sat through an, albeit incredibly entertaining, local history lesson. Local 'celebrities' from author and poet Carl Sandburg and Abe Lincoln, to Frank Lloyd Wright and serial killer clown John Wayne Gacy, Jr (the track entitled simply John Wayne Gacy Jr
is a surefire album highlight) all feature as Stevens enlightens and attempts to capture the very essence of the state.
Employing more than 30 instruments and musicians, from guitars and banjos to horns, string quartets and even a small choir, the album also features a number of guests including James McAlister of Ester Drang, Shara Worden of AwRY and My Brightest Diamond, Craig Monturo of Volcano, I'm Still Excited!, and some production help from old Daniel Smith of the Danielson Famile.
It's also impossible to talk about this record without discussing the vision of heaven for any journalist paid by the word: The track titles. Highlights (both musically and titles) include Decatur, Or, Round Of Applause For Your Stepmother, The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
and the sadly diminutively-titled track Chicago
Spread over 22 tracks, this is a body of work that cannot be absorbed in one go, and while Stevens may track from state to state like an old love potion salesman flogging his wares from the back of a Chevvy, his patter is notably more earnest. Better than Michigan
and more assertive than the critically acclaimed Seven Swans
, this record will have you gasping for the next state. And if you live until 2053, you may just be able to collect the whole set.