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Cat Stevens - A Classic LP Reimagined

12-24-2020 | By Robert S. Youman | Issue 112

Yusuf/Cat Stevens, Tea For The Tillerman 2, Island Records (33 RPM LP)

At 72 years old, Yusuf Islam continues to entertain and delight his fans. Born Steven Demetra Georgio in 1948 in London, England, he took the stage name of Cat Stevens in 1966 before turning to Islam in 1977 and assuming his current name. He is known for an eclectic mix of folk, pop and rock music with several hit songs and albums during the 1970s. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014.

The term "Masterpiece" has often been used for his crown achievement, the original Tea For The Tillerman, which was released in 1970 on the A&M Records label in the USA and the Island Records label in the EU. Along with Teaser And The Firecat (1971), these two albums continue to be two of the most popular requests on the various streaming and download sites. They also remain staples for many of my generation on their favorite album rotations.

The number of audiophile reissues for these two LPs seems to be endless as we Baby Boomers never cease to seek out the ultimate degree of sound quality and satisfaction to support these memories. This, despite the fact that the original pressings are some of the finest sounding pop/rock LPs ever. Even the original mint EU Island Pink Label pressings have cult like status and demand upwards of $200 on eBay and Discogs. Needless to say, a bench mark has been set.

With the 50th anniversary for Tea For The Tillerman arriving in 2020, Yusuf was inspired to "reimagine" this album with new recordings and arrangements for all the songs. "Reimagine" was an expression that Yusuf continued to use in several of his interviews during the rollout, and I think it is very appropriate. The end result is a new album that has been entitled Tea For Tillerman 2. He has stated that one of the key reasons for this was the anniversary, but also the opportunity to work with his son Yoriyos who suggested the idea and is a song writer and musician on his own.

Lastly he wanted to have some fun and to be slightly "adventurous" with the songs on stage and to demonstrate what he sounds like today. Like most fans, I had my concerns about the state of his voice and what creative juices might still be left. No worries here—see my comments below on performance and sound. A major tour was scheduled for 2020, but due to the lockdown, this has been moved to 2021. I know that I will be one of the first in line for tickets.

For this new album, Yusuf was reunited with his original producer Paul Samwell-Smith, original guitarist Alum Davis and bass player Bruce Lynch from his band in the 1970s. He was also joined by Peter Vettese on keyboards (formally of Jethro Tull), Jim Cregan on guitar (formally with Rod Stewart), and Kwame Yeboah on drums. All in all, Yusuf was able to surround himself with both the familiar and the new and it obviously established a very fertile and creative environment.

Recordings were made at JI Studios (Dubai), La Fabrique Studios (South France) and RMV Studios (Stockholm). Engineering and mix were provided by David Hefti. Mastering was provided by Mazen Murad. Lacquers were cut at Abbey Road Studios by Miles Showell and vinyl was pressed at Optimal.

Performance and Sound

Despite all the love for the original, I strongly suggest that long term fans come to the table with an open mind and try to be more curious than judgmental. With this mindset, I think you will find that Tea For The Tillerman 2 is both highly entertaining and very satisfying.

Sound quality is excellent. The newer recording seems more lavish and powerful with richer, more complex production values. I was pleasantly surprised by the realistic tone and timbre of most instruments. PRAT (pace, rhythm and timing) was quite impressive on vinyl without the typical edge and hardness of current modern recordings. I was not able to determine if the original analog tapes were used during production, but again, there were few if any digital artifacts to indicate otherwise.

One important variable for me was the state of Yusuf’s voice. Obviously, 50 years have passed and so there is a difference, but I found it in wonderful form and quite engaging. Slightly more rounded and burnished, there is a timbral purity and a fleshed out amount of growl that I found very appealing – possibly even more seductive than ever. Yusuf is still able to hit all the registers when needed, but as expected, we find him staying more in the middle lane as he navigates through the several tracks. No concerns here. He’s still got that thing that made him stand out in all his earlier recordings!

As stated above, Yusuf was motivated by all the many possibilities for the new arrangements. One exciting example is the song "Father and Son", which many consider their all-time favorite from this artist. A recording was taken from a 1970 performance at the Troubadour in LA and was used along with his current studio recording to create a virtual duet between father and son (older and younger Yusuf). The purists might scream, but I found it quite magical if not very moving.

My favorite new track is "Wild World". There is sort of a French Café feel to the melody as it slowly meanders through the score with piano and clarinet setting the mood. There are no credits for the instrument, but I could swear that there is a street musician playing accordion hanging out stage left that takes me back to Paris during my younger days of travel. Ah, the women. Ah, the wine. What a great arrangement!

One track that has taken some time to appreciate is "Longer Boats". It begins with a similar disposition as the original, but soon rapper Brother Ali enters mid-song with a new staccato and rhythm that changes the feel of the song quite dramatically. Yusuf boldly rolled the dice on this one, but the payoff did come for me eventually. Like I said earlier, I just needed to stay open minded and focus on it alone without drifting to the past. If you had never heard the original, my bet is that it you would find the new arrangement one of the strong standouts on the album.

In summary, I must say bravo to Yusuf and his entire team! Tea for the Tillerman 2 is a fantastic addition to his catalog. If there is any hesitation, I recommend that you first check it out on Qobuz or Tidal. I found the high resolution offering on either to be outstanding, but vinyl will take it up a notch. I greatly admire Yusuf for taking a chance with one of the classics, and I hope that other artists might do the same. 

Track List

Side 1

  1. Where Do The Children Play?
  2. Hard Headed Woman
  3. Wild World
  4. Sad Lisa
  5. Miles From Nowhere

Side 2

  1. But I Might Die Tonight
  2. Longer Boats
  3. Into White
  4. On The Road To Find Out
  5. Father and Son
  6. Tea For The Tillerman

Island Records/Universal Music Company

Catalog Number - 0888695