Yusuf/Cat Stevens: Tea for the Tillerman 2 (UMe) | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Tuesday, March 2nd, 2021  

Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Tea for the Tillerman 2


Nov 02, 2020 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Cat Stevens’ Tea for the Tillerman is an unqualified classic. Released in 1970, it was Stevens’ fourth album but it was Tea for the Tillerman that catapulted him to internationally success with songs such as “Where Do the Children Play?,” “Father and Son,” and the ubiquitous “Wild World.” 

For the album’s 50th anniversary, Stevens, who now goes by Yusuf, is not just traipsing out a traditional reissue with extras and packaging. He has instead re-recorded the songs, in the same order as the original album, for a new era. It’s a brilliant idea, an artist paying homage to the album that brought him great acclaim. Yet, it’s also a risky move. These songs are classics. A traditional covers album could see the songs being royally sullied, but to have the artist himself sully his own classics with subpar reimaginings would be sacrilege.     

For the most part, Stevens walks the tightrope with the deftness of an artist who has only gotten better with age. The album opens with “Where Do the Children Play?,” which is presented here with calmer delivery, Yusuf/Stevens almost sounding resigned that his statement of purpose in 1970 continues to be relevant today. “Sad Lisa” takes on extra weight, a gravity assisted by the orchestral arrangement and the fact that the lyrics are now being sung by a man 50 years older than the one who originally recorded it. “Miles from Nowhere” starts somberly before ratcheting up the energy with electric guitar. “Longer Boats” starts much like the original before veering into reggae territory. And “On the Road to Find Out” is transformed into loping blues. 

For the most part, these reinventions work, with the possible exception of the reggae “Longer Boats.” But two versions prove the album’s best, and for completely different reasons. “Wild World,” which is perhaps Yusuf/Stevens’ best known song, is completely reconfigured here, almost unrecognizable but for those unmistakable lyrics, into a haunting world music-esque jaunt, with slinky oboe interludes. Somehow Yusuf/Stevens succeeds in making his best known song completely new, and it works. “Father and Son,” however, sticks to the original’s emotional heart, but does so with a new conceit. Specifically, it finds Stevens singing a duet with his younger self. The father of the song is Yusuf/Stevens today, and the son is sung by him as a 22-year-old, taken from a concert performance in 1970. It’s a compelling, tender, and poignant retelling of the original that also happens to be the album’s most beautiful and transcendent moment. And to create new transcendent moments from an album that created enough of its own 50 years ago is really something special. (www.catstevens.com)

Author rating: 7.5/10

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