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Preview: Sufjan Stevens

The acclaimed singer-songwriter comes to the Saenger Theatre May 9

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The considerable power in Sufjan Stevens' music is multi-sourced, drawing from intimacy and loneliness, hope and despondency, desperation and exaltation. It has big bands and a single singer/songwriter; it is third, second and first person, sometimes all at once. It's a testament to Stevens' ability that his wide swaths — awestruck, wholly inclusive songs of worship to his Christian faith (Seven Swans); a postcard opus about his home state (Michigan) minimized only by a staggering travelogue through a neighboring state (Illinois) — haven't dampened his appeal or narrowed his audience. Just the opposite: With each increasingly fanciful turn, Stevens' flock grows. His latest, the March release Carrie & Lowell (Asthmatic Kitty), is dedicated to two people who influenced his life in different, converging ways (an absentee mother fraught with mental instability and substance abuse, and a stepfather who operates his record label). It's a critically acclaimed confessional of overcoming shortcomings and negative personal space, set to the softest, prettiest guitar and piano arrangements since Elliott Smith. It is not for everyone; it is for someone. Most of it concerns Stevens' attempts to make sense of his abandonment, both in the literal sense ("When I was 3, maybe 4 / She left us at that video store") and the overwhelming grief and guilt that stem from a finite, unfulfilled relationship. It's most impressive that he pulls so much detail from what for most would be an unreliable memory play ("Trace your shadow with my shoe / Now all of me thinks less of you"). On "John My Beloved," Stevens becomes Christ, and Christ becomes his mother, and it's not the least bit creepy, just incredibly moving. "So can we pretend, sweetly, before the mystery ends / I am a man with a heart that offends with its lonely and greedy demands / There's only a shadow of me, in a manner of speaking, I'm dead," he sings, finishing with a blatantly ambiguous plea: "Jesus, I need you / Be near me / Come shield me from fossils that fall on my head." Moses Sumney opens. Tickets $35-$45.

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