The first in a series of fifty proposed albums chronicling every state of America, and Stevens’ third album overall, Michigan chronicles his native state. Accordingly, it’s full of malaise and blue collar battlers, although songs like ‘Vito’s Ordination Song’ and ‘Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head (Restore! Rebuild! Reconsider!)’ are tinged with some hope. Michigan sets out the basis of Stevens’ basic styles for his next few albums; he’s generally either delivering acoustic ballads, delivered with banjo or piano accompaniment, or overblown epics that channel touches of jazz and progressive rock.
For Michigan, it’s the acoustic pieces that are most effective; songs like ‘Romulus’, ‘The Upper Peninsula’ and ‘For the Widows in Paradise (For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti)’ are the standouts, infused with compassion. But the epics aren’t as convincing as they’d become on his next few albums – his arrangements would become bolder and more memorable.
It’s very good, but Michigan does drag in some places and it could stand some trimming – if you’re new to Stevens I’d suggest jumping to one of the subsequent albums first and coming back to this later.