In 1970, Cat Stevens was a struggling musician. He had previously released three records that didn't have great reviews or sell many albums. Then came the release of "Tea for the Tillerman." The album charted in the top ten in the United States and it received almost unanimously positive reviews. It put Cat Stevens on the pop music map. It was the start of Cat Stevens becoming one of the biggest music stars in the world. It led to five years of gold record sales and sold-out concerts.
But for many musicians, fame is fleeting. That's the way it was for Stevens. When he became a Muslim and dedicated himself to his religion, he put his music career on hold. He basically self-exiled himself for two decades. No records. No concerts. No music at all. When he returned, it was with a different name, Yusuf Islam and his music was about his religious beliefs. Eventually, he integrated the songs from his career as Cat Stevens with his newer tunes. Yes, he was back, but it wasn't the same as in his heyday. The stadium concerts were long gone and replaced by much smaller venues. Record sales were almost nil. It was/is a much scaled-down musical version of Cat/Yusuf.
This year is the fiftieth anniversary of "Tea for the Tillerman". The plan was to have a concert tour playing the album in its entirety. Like everything else in 2020, those plans were affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The tour was put on hold. That gave Yusef/Cat Stevens the time and opportunity to spend time in the studio. He used that time to revisit and put a different spin on his legendary album from fifty years ago.
Like most great things, it's hard to improve on the original, but that doesn't make it all bad. His voice isn't the same as it was fifty years ago, but that's to be expected. The power and the angst seem to be gone. However, he has a mellowness to his sound that he didn't have in 1970.
The arrangements to the tunes are somewhat different, but not so much that you wouldn't recognize them. While I was disappointed in the newest version of "Wild World", he made up for it with a better take on "Father and Son", which is the highlight of the album.
While I'm not sure I'd purchase this new record, it's still a worthwhile effort and worthy of forty minutes of your time.
This is the first of two reviews of updated classic albums from 1970. Tomorrow: Dave Mason "Alone Together Again"
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