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Review: Yusuf: Roadsinger

The real return of the former Cat Stevens

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating

By

Yusuf,

Yusuf, "Roadsinger"

source: pricegrabber.com
He returned to pop songwriting three years ago with the critically and commercially undervalued An Other Cup, but this follow-up has got the weight of mass marketing behind it -- as well it should, because this is the real comeback, the real attempt to recreate the sound and feel of his classic early-Seventies recordings. And his muse, which is no more or less spiritual than it was before he converted to Islam in 1977, also doesn't get in his way any more than we expect from this sensitive singer-songwriter legend.

About this CD

  • Release date: May 5, 2009
  • Label: Hip-O
  • Catalog number: 001279402
  • Musicians: Yusuf: organ, synthesizer, acoustic guitar, percussion, piano, electric guitar, 12-string guitar, Spanish guitar, synthesizer bass; Martin Terefe: acoustic guitar, bass, piano, electric guitar; Yogi Lonich: acoustic guitar, electric guitar, bottleneck guitar; Pete Adams: piano, Wurlitzer; Kenny Passarelli: bass, Kristoffer Sonne: drums, tambourine; Mark Clark: drums; David Angell, David Davidson: violin; John Catchings, Anthony LaMarchina: cello; Chris McDonald: trombone; Chris Wilkinson: viola; Jennifer Kummer: French horn; Jimmy Bowland: tenor saxophone; Will Simmons: wind chimes; Michelle Branch, Terry Sylvester, Gunnar Nelson, Holly Williams, James Morrison: background vocals
  • String Arrangements: David Davidson
  • Engineered by John Hanlon, Baeho Bobby Shin, Dyre Gormsen, Iain Hill, Ramzi Ammouri
  • Mastered by Bob Ludwig
  • Cover art: Mark Aaron James
  • Produced by Martin Terefe, Yusuf

Pros

  • The sound of early-Seventies Cat Stevens is back, only slightly little more serious and a little less poppy.
  • Unlike some religious records, Yusuf doesn't spend time preaching, just detailing his quest for The Truth.
  • The sound is strikingly lovely, and tasteful without sounding embalmed.

Cons

  • There's nothing here as instantly memorable as his classic string of singer-songwriter hits, but the more penetrating nature of these tunes arguably offers greater rewards.
  • Three years is a long time to wait for a little over half an hour of music.

My review

The real evidence that Cat Stevens, who became Yusuf Islam in 1977, has completely come to terms with his pop-star past in light of his religious present comes halfway through his new CD, Roadsinger, in the intro to track six, "To Be What You Must." For there, only slightly modified, lies the piano intro to his 1972 hit, "Sitting," a song that marked the moment he started to question whether his priorities were in order, and whether his audience would follow him if he suddenly reversed them: "And if I make it to the waterside, I'll be sure to write you a note, or something." The new song is a lyrical note from the returning wanderer, naming his sailing vessel "near and far" and concluding: "Only on a wind of hope my heart sailed / Braving mystic oceans to arrive."

With this white flag of sorts (and the fact that the former Cat Stevens is readying a stage musical, Moonshadow, which ties together all his old hits), it's clear that Yusuf (no Islam surname now) is ready to be a pop star again. The venerable singer-songwriter even goes so far as to compare his first coming-out-of-retirement CD, 2006's cluttered, preachy An Other Cup, as the Mona Bone Jakon to his new Tea For The Tillerman.

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