It has been said that Seven Swans was conceived during the time Stevens’ wrote Greetings From Michigan. Yet he felt the material that eventually comprised his fourth release would burden Greetings with an overabundance of work. It would however, be inaccurate to dismiss Seven Swans as leftovers or songs unfit for the top drawer. Mere months after the release of his lauded homage to his home state, his latest collection takes much of the similar shapes and musical qualities its predecessor personified: sparse, enchanting, and acutely profound in the continued assessment of Stevens’ seemingly measureless musical world. And while Greetings From Michigan gleamed with very personal lyrical impressions, Seven Swansdelves even deeper into the scribe’s vast mind; escaping into far more spiritual landscapes that are both personal and religious. The focus of his words have become tuned to greater individuality, but the music itself is very much resonant of the metaphysical, svelte-centric guitar folk that shone so brightly in his previous offering.
While the inclusion of religion often deems music precociously preachy, Stevens is far from being some sermon of religious dogma. Instead, he laments on human spirituality from faith itself; that we can all be spiritual without having to sacrifice our actions for some preserved “greater good” or be judged by what is and what is not done. Take his penning of subtle beauty “The Dress Looks Nice On You” as an example. The song itself is stunning in its simplicity, yet the aura of the composition, coupled with his lyrical subtleties gives the song a wholly mystical atmosphere, yet one that is very captivating to greater audiences. And much of the album comes across in this similar tone; songs can sound different – from the serenity of “Abraham” to the more Hindu-like numinous echo of “Sister” (before it cackles into its far more festive-cum-tranquil terrain) – but the album in its entirety never loses its sense of human connection. Stevens may be talking about a specific religion (Christianity in this case), but the material holds such a luminous, uplifting quality that it very much transcends, intentionally or not, across all borders of textbook religion.
Another striking aspect of this collection is that while structures never veer from uncomplicated, they never tire or wilt into the unadorned visage that tends to encapsulate the bearing of the soul. Perhaps due to the previously mentioned tone of immense connectivity, or that maybe Stevens is just a remarkably talented songwriter, Seven Swans never once wanes into predictably bland. Even when he strums along pensively on his banjo or stretches lengths to grand measures (the six minutes plus of “Seven Swans” or the merry bounce of the album’s closer “The Transfiguration”), he manages to maintain his incredible ability as a storyteller. And it could be that very quality that makes his work so captivating; his songs are wonderful traditions filled with grand aural scenery and touching humanity, chronicled through the voice of a wisely-tuned craftsman. As listeners wander through these seemingly timeless compositions, lost amongst the monoliths of industry they so rightfully oppose, there is great reminder of character; testaments that still waters truly run deep.