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Welcome to the Welcome Wagon

  • reviewed by Andree Farias Copyright Christianity Today International
  • 2008 1 Dec
Welcome to the Welcome Wagon
Sounds like … Sufjan Stevens, Danielson, Half-handed Cloud, and other indie-pop eccentrics.At a glance … the titular performers notwithstanding, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon is the best album Sufjan Stevens never released with its quirky, worshipful indie folk sound.Track ListingUp on a MountainSold! To the Nice Rich ManUnless the Lord the House Shall BuildHe Never Said a Mumblin' WordHail to the Lord's AnointedBut for You Who Fear My NameAmerican LegionYou Made My DayHalf a PersonJesusI Am a StrangerDeep Were His Wounds, and Red

Aside from his annual Christmas releases, it would seem that Sufjan Stevens has taken a self-imposed hiatus from recording after the release of his universally acclaimed 2005 release Illinois. Some have speculated that all the breathless adoration he's received took a toll, forcing him to steal away into exile, far from the press and the maddening crowds. But Stevens can't help but keep creating, and Welcome to the Welcome Wagon is the latest in a long list of side projects.

In an extensive essay included in the disc's liner notes, Stevens goes to great lengths to explain away his involvement—he's not much for drawing attention to himself, doing his best to decrease so that The Welcome Wagon may increase. Despite his efforts, Stevens is in full control here as an arranger, producer, and micromanager. Close your eyes, and the album is essentially a glorified b-sides collection from Stevens in step with Seven Swans, Steven's more minimalist and spiritual predecessor to Illinois.

In other words, Welcome to the Welcome Wagon is the best album Stevens never released. It's rife with biblical imagery, overzealous backup vocalists, a symphony of indie pop/folk instrumentation, and a child-like warmth that's nearly impossible to resist. Though perhaps a little too obvious and indiscreet about its points of reference, this is nonetheless a delightfully artful listen.

As for The Welcome Wagon, they at least deserve some credit. The husband-and-wife duo—comprised of Rev. Vito Aiuto, a minister at Resurrection Presbyterian Church in Brooklyn, and his wife Monique—plays instruments and is involved with the songwriting. They're both bona fide church kids, unashamed to sing about Jesus and his atoning sacrifice, yet occasionally tempering the religiosity with covers of The Smiths and the Velvet Underground.

That's about all that can be said for the Aiutos' contributions. Everything else bears the unmistakable stamp of Stevens, who lives vicariously through The Welcome Wagon to realize his own artistic dreams. Perhaps this album fulfills his repressed desire to sing about Christ without having to expound on his beliefs in a public forum as a solo artist.

© Andree Farias, subject to licensing agreement with Christianity Today International. All rights reserved. Click for reprint information.