fri 19/01/2018

CD: Yusuf/Cat Stevens - Tell 'Em I'm Gone | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Yusuf/Cat Stevens - Tell 'Em I'm Gone

CD: Yusuf/Cat Stevens - Tell 'Em I'm Gone

This old Cat learns some new tricks

Cat: stripped-down, low-key blues

Every rock fan knows Cat Stevens' story: how, during the early Seventies, the son of a Greek café owner conquered the world’s charts with classics like “Wild World” and “Father and Son” but eventually tired of the music business, found Allah, and packed his guitar away. Since 2006, though, the artist currently known as Yusuf Islam has been slowly returning to his old day job.  

So far, most agree, the results have been pleasant rather than stellar. Tell ‘Em I’m Gone, however, is in a different league. Teaming up with production guru Rick Rubin (of Johnny Cash’s American Recordings) Cat has swapped plucked strings for raw blues. Some may consider the idea of a mature artist re-inventing himself with a stripped-down, low-key sound somewhat stale. But Yusuf has plenty of substance to carry it off. Somehow he seems cuddly and fragile again, singing in slightly cracked, understated voice that speaks of his unusual journey.

It’s the rhythm and blues style that really lifts this album. Both the originals and covers (the album is equally split) flow with conviction and experience infused with spirituality. Guests help vary the flavours. Tinariwen from Mali, for instance, add a lovely Islamic twist to a soulful reading of “You Are My Sunshine”. Surprisingly, though, Richard Thompson’s contribution to “I was Raised in Babylon” simply makes the song sombre. And, equally against expectations, Bonnie Prince Billy also fails to bring Procum Harem’s soggy “The Devil Came from Kansas” to life.

Still, you'd need ears of wax not to find the rest of the album a treat. The highlights come from two contrasting reflections on Yusuf’s life. “Editing Room Blues” – an angry shuffle reminiscent of Dylan’s "Cold Irons Bound" – is a riposte to those who once accused him of endorsing the fatwa on Salman Rushdie. But it's the wistful “Cat and the Dog Trap” – the album’s one stylistic throwback – that really pulls at the heartstrings. Against the odds, Yusuf seems to have really delivered an album worthy of his former self.

Overleaf: A video on the making of Tell 'Em I'm Gone

He seems cuddly and fragile again, singing in slightly cracked voice that speaks of his unusual journey

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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