Cat Stevens writes most vulnerable and successful music in 1970 masterpiece
Of all the awards, honors and accolades that the music industry offers, being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame stands at the top of the list. Yusuf Islam, or Cat Stevens is one of these such inductees. Hailing from England, this legendary singer-songwriter plays with many different genres and has for many years. From pop to folk to rock to even traditional Islamic music, his music has reached and influenced many ears.
Stevens, as a young man, cut his teeth playing local London pubs and restaurants until he was discovered in 1966. From then on, he proved to be a powerful yet kind voice in the folk music scene. Beginning with two hit singles, “I Love my Dog” and “Matthew and Son,” his career took many twists and turns to the top including tours with Jimi Hendrix, the legendary song “The First Cut is the Deepest” and a record on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.
One of Stevens’s most famous albums came at the beginning of his career in 1970: Tea for the Tillerman. In a new, 2020 reimagining of his the original album, Yusuf/Cat Stevens takes a different look at some of most iconic songs. While all the songs titles are the same, this new version adds a heavier component. Pianos are replaced with guitars, drums are found in places that they did not used to be and electric instruments are used. One of these such differences comes in the third song on the record “Wild World,” the catalyst for this album’s commercial success. This song has been featured in countless movies and TV shows for its methodical lament on life’s difficulties. Accordions, clarinets and symbol-heavy drum kits fill the spaces of the originally reflective mood that this song had. These instruments in the background give the song a much lighter yet emotionally intense feel.
Tea for the Tillerman’s expressive mood continues on the next track, “Sad Lisa.” With a hauntingly beautiful piano, followed by an acoustic guitar and accompanied by the occasional strings in the background, Stevens’s voice soothes yet warns of sorrow at the same time. Another high point on the album, and one that secured much commercial acclaim, is the pensive “Father and Son.” In a powerful song on the album, a father struggles with his son finding independence. Stevens paints a picture of loneliness in one of its most primal forms. However, the song is backlit with a kind wisdom that is being delivered from the father to his son, giving the track a tinge of sweetness.
The album ends with its title track “Tea for the Tillerman.” It opens with a callback to the first song on the record, “Where do the Children Play?” with his line, “where the sinners sin, the children play.” Just one minute long, this song is a nice way to bookend the album. A choir of voices join Stevens at the end to help him sing the final lyric of the album, “happy day.”
Yusuf/Cat Stevens has a way of presenting deeply complex and troubling feelings with beauty. It’s this rational and calm approach to the music that allows listeners to step back and listen to what he is actually saying. This makes it so the feelings and music can be experienced in a more meaningful way. By recreating this original album, Stevens is able to place emphasis on places that he thought may have been missed by listeners the first time around. All in all, Yusuf/Cat Stevens used more sound and more ambiance to create a stronger emotional response from his listeners, and he achieved that goal with Tea for the Tillerman 2.