|Photo: Denny Renshaw via NPR
Sufjan Steven has released another collection of holiday songs, Silver & Gold, which is now streaming online until next week on NPR's "First Listen" program here. It includes over fifty songs spread over approximately three hours: Volumes 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 to continue 2006's Songs for Christmas. I received those CDs as a suitable and welcome gift, complete with a fold out poster of a cartoon on one side then an awkward "family portrait" photo with Stevens on the other plus a songbook with lyrics, guitar chords and a personal story called "Christmas Tube Socks." Stevens recalls how he came to love Christmas after the choas of growing up in a overly creative household. "Over time, in the midst of everyday life, I completely forgot all about Christmas and how much I hated it."
The songs were first gifts to himself and others, time spent with friends in traditional sing alongs and then dispersed as presents. Stevens is a deeply religious artist whose ordeal with a life threatening illness was exposed throughout his last release, The Age of Adz. (One of my picks in Top Ten Releases of 2010 and his concert at The Beacon Theatre that fall was a Top Concert Experiences of 2010.) This foray into electronica may have confused fans of his indie folk on earlier releases, 2004's Seven Swans or 2003's Greetings From Michigan and 2005's Chicago, part of a planned series about all fifty states that was ambitious at best. Silver & Gold returns to the holiday spirit in both genres, while finding room for all age renditions of favorites as well (for example a craft project take on "Jingle Bells" or straight forward belting in "We Wish You a Merry Chrismas"). There's even a rockin' "Mr. Frost Man" along with appropriate nods to Santa and snowy weather. But the endearing a cappella hymns can catch a modern listener off guard, with their not quite perfect harmonies and heartfelt individualism. Even a Grinch's heart might grow in size.