Music review: Sufjan Stevens' Lonely Man Of Winter is a contemplative Christmas song

Lonely Man Of Winter, initially recorded in 2007, it was given away to Alec Duffy, the winner of a marketing contest to promote Stevens' Songs For Christmas box-set.
Lonely Man Of Winter, initially recorded in 2007, it was given away to Alec Duffy, the winner of a marketing contest to promote Stevens' Songs For Christmas box-set.PHOTO: ASTHMATIC KITTY

Review Indie Folk

LONELY MAN OF WINTER

Sufjan Stevens/Alec Duffy

Asthmatic Kitty

Four stars


Never mind the kerfuffle over the Disney-fied Christmas decorations in Orchard Road - 'tis the season for reflecting and cherishing what you already have, and sharing them.

That appears to be the motivation behind the release of this Sufjan Stevens rarity: Lonely Man Of Winter.

Initially recorded in 2007, it was given away to Alec Duffy, the winner of a marketing contest to promote Stevens' Songs For Christmas box-set.

In return, Duffy gifted his own composition, Every Day Is Christmas, to Stevens. Over the past decade, Duffy has played Stevens' song in private listening parties, paired with cookies and hot chocolate.

He has now decided to release the song officially in collaboration with Stevens' label Asthmatic Kitty with proceeds going to fund Duffy's non-profit Brooklyn performance venue, Jack.

It's to the testament of Stevens' artistry that Lonely Man Of Winter fits in his oeuvre, sounding timeless and contemplative like the best of his work.

In the spirit of the albums released in the mid-noughties - the chamber folk of Illinois (2005) and his more overtly spiritual record Seven Swans (2004) - Lonely Man of Winter displays his acute eye for pithy characterisation, in this case an empathetic portraiture of a lonesome soul during the festive season.

"In the world that you would make up/With unicorns and buffalo packs/I know that you would wake up/With the sunny side touching your back," Stevens sings in his gentlest wisp, over buttery guitar riffs and a smattering of ivories.

Why is he alone? Where is his family? What happened? Questions sprout, as Stevens, who once studied creative writing, acknowledges: "Coming with theories on him... He's riding in the devil's abyss."

Therein lies the beauty of his songcraft - he is not wont to judge nor proselytise. It reflects his curiosity in humanity and how it ticks.

"Oh, I would rate the future/If I could put a finger on it/But I have no idea/If what I want is better than this," he ponders, aware of the gap between reality and man's insatiable hunger, as bells ring in the background.

It may be a song written for Christmas, but this isn't a mindless, hyperbolic celebration. Stevens implores all to look inwards and lend a helping hand.

He spoils us with a spacey, if needless, remix by his friend Thomas Bartlett, aka Doveman, with ethereal harmonising by Melissa Mary Ahern.

Stevens' song is perfectly complemented by Duffy's piano ballad, Every Day Is Christmas, instead. "But I don't need that fancy stuff, no way, so siree/Cause your love is so much better than a plasma screen TV," the latter sings simply and clearly.

It's a beatific singalong which eschews the mercenary excesses of modern Christmases for the true meaning of the holiday.

Listen to Lonely Man Of Winter at www.youtube.com/watch?v=9DPqg8Ti-N4