Two albums to listen to: Two essential breakout folk albums by the Stevens

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Editor’s note: In this recurring column, music writer Chris Duncan suggests two albums to listen to this week. Have a suggestion? Send a tweet to @chr_dunc, and your pick might appear in next week’s Two Albums To Listen To.

Mona Bone Jakon – Cat Stevens

After four relatively unsuccessful years at the start of his music career, Cat Stevens contracted tuberculosis, coming close to death. During his recovery, Stevens questioned his life and spirituality, taking up meditation, vegetarianism and a new perspective on religion to help recuperate. Once his recovery was done, Stevens intentionally sabotaged his contract with Deram Records by creating expensive demands and legal threats with the intention of gaining the freedom to create a new folk rock sound on his next upcoming album.

Under the direction of former Yardbirds bassist Paul Samwell-Smith, Stevens introduced the music world to a reinvented musician with Mona Bone Jakon. The album is littered with sparse arrangements, centering around acoustic guitar blues. Images of death are the main theme of the record, complimented by the scratchiness of Stevens’ voice. Mona Bone Jakon’s direction led success in the mainstream and paved the way to a couple of legendary albums from Stevens.

Although his name is in the news more often today for his religious beliefs rather than his empowering music, Cat Stevens’ legacy in folk still maintains itself, helping carry on his messages of peace for generations to come.

Tracks to listen to: “Lady D’Arbanville,” “Trouble,” “Lilywhite”

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Michigan – Sufjan Stevens

Known for his quirky and eclectic sound, Sufjan Stevens was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan. As an ode to his home state, he wrote and performed Michigan, which eventually sky-rocketed his career into the indie limelight.

Documenting Stevens’ frustration and joy with the state, Michigan fluctuates from massive highs and sinking lows, building on riffs and loops to help create the album’s ever-shifting dynamics. Stevens plays every instrument on the album, helping add to the record’s prowess.

The outcome of Michigan is a haunting and entrancing effort, establishing the standard for the rest of Stevens’ releases.

Tracks to listen to: “Flint (For The Underemployed and Underpaid),” “For The Windows in Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti,” “Vito’s Ordination Song”

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