Street Sounds: There’s still some Cat Stevens in Yusuf

Former ‘60s/’70s folk-pop star Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, returns closer to form on his 14th album, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone.

Former ‘60s/’70s folk-pop star Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, returns closer to form on his 14th album, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone.

And gone he was, from the music business anyway, for 25-plus years.

Now going under the pseudonym, Yusuf/Cat Stevens, the singer-songwriter proves he still has the presence that made him a star in the 1960s.

Co-producer Rick Rubin has sagely steered Yusuf back towards his early blues roots and brought in musicians like Richard Thompson, Charlie Musselwhite and Saharan acoustic blues group Tinariwen. The full complement of this collaboration between the singer and musicians is first heard to full effect on the dark, sinewy cover version of You Are My Sunshine. Editing Floor Blues is another gritty performance, an autobiographical piece that has a later Dylan-esque vibe.

Yusuf’s vocal is strong and resonant, a trifle huskier than the young man who wrote and recorded The First Cut is the Deepest. The closest that Yusuf/Stevens comes to that bittersweet epic is the ballad, Cat and the Dog Trap.

Much of the singer’s spiritually seeking 1970s’ folk-pop style is largely absent on Tell ‘Em I’m Gone as the Rubin-influenced blues direction takes Yusuf on a simpler, rougher course. This suits his delivery and the basic arrangements give the singer a platform to roll out his nicely matured voice (Gold Digger).

His cover of Procol Harum’s, The Devil Came from Kansas hints at some of his heyday output but like the rest of the album is earthy and pared down.

He’s an artist with a deep past and it comes through in his voice – an expressive instrument that has re-emerged.

Dean Gordon-Smith is Vernon-based musician who reviews new music releases for The Morning Star.