Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Yusuf -- An Other World

You all know Yusuf, formerly Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens. Back in his feline days he was better than just about anybody at framing philosophical conundrums and spiritual questions as part of perfectly realized three-minute pop songs.

But that was a long time ago, and his conversion to Islam and his subsequent critical commentaries on western culture have alienated him from much of his old audience. And he hasn't exactly been prolific in the musical department, either, offering a few dour doctrinal discourses over the past three decades, and little else.

So An Other Cup is an unexpected return. To be sure, Yusuf is very much a Muslim, and he'd like you to know how important his faith is in his life. But a few didactic moments aside, I'm impressed by how warm and welcoming this album sounds. Yusuf's voice is virtually unchanged from the '70s, and that's a very good thing indeed. His melodic pop gifts are intact, as is at least part of the classic band that made Tea for the Tillerman and Teaser and the Firecat so memorable. Newcomer (for Yusuf) Youssou N'Dour adds stirring vocals. Most significantly, in songs like "Maybe There's a World" Yusuf allows us to see through the cracks, as he admits that he's not perfect, and that he's not the man he'd like to be. How about that? The humanity, long the hallmark of his early '70s recordings, is still there, and this time it's front and center. This is far from the man's best work, but it's really, really nice to have him back.

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