Album reviews: Yusuf/Cat Stevens | The Twilight Sad

Inductee Yusaf/Cat Stevens performs onstage at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony. Picture: Getty

Inductee Yusaf/Cat Stevens performs onstage at the 29th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony. Picture: Getty

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For 27 years from the late 1970s on, Cat Stevens chose not to involve himself in any great way with the mainstream music industry, following his conversion to Islam and change of name to Yusuf Islam.

Yusuf/Cat Stevens

Tell ’Em I’m Gone

Sony

Star rating: ***

The past decade appears to have softened his stance, for he has recorded three albums since 2006: the comeback An Other Cup, 2009’s Roadsinger, and now this collection, one which recalls the spiritual searching of his early career.

The record was produced by Rick Rubin, but there’s little of the radical reinvention which he gifted to Johnny Cash in The Man In Black’s later years. Instead, Tell ’Em I’m Gone hones what we know and expect from Islam’s work, presenting it in a sharper-edged context for 21st century listeners. The opening I Was Raised In Babylon is one of the most bitter-tasting tracks here, a brooding blues number which sees Yusuf ruminate on the state of the West: “They used to call us civilised / those days are gone... we thought our white skins would save us / then we got burned.” Yet there’s no anger here, instead his voice is wearily dismayed, and it chimes with the removed wisdom of the artist-observer.

Amid acoustic blues and chiming slide guitar soul (much of it played by Tuareg group Tinariwen, with appearances from Richard Thompson and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy), he reinvents If I Had A Hammer as the title track and covers Jimmy Reed’s Big Boss Man, both measured takedowns of the treatment of working people. He reinterprets You Are My Sunshine and Procol Harum’s The Devil Came From Kansas in similarly rough-edged fashion. Given the strength of his faith, it’s doubtful that Yusuf will see his years outside the mainstream as wasted; however, there’s a sense on this record that he’s looking to make a fresh impact. DP

Download: Tell ‘Em I’m Gone, You Are My Sunshine

POP

The Flaming Lips

With A Little Help From My Fwends

Bella Union

Star Rating: ****

It’s the Beatles as you’ve never heard them, and as purists may be happy to never experience them again. Yet for a band as famously fond of wayward experimentation as the Flaming Lips, it’s only fitting that their all-star, in-order remake of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band pushes out the freak boat. So prepare for distorting bass and chipmunk vocals on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (which features My Morning Jacket and Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis), Miley Cyrus and Moby riffing over a cataclysmic Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, When I’m Sixty-Four redrafted using spacey electro and MGMT jamming over Sgt Pepper’s (Reprise). Forget staid homage, this is the deranged tribute the Beatles’ sense of psych-out fun deserves. DP

Download: Lovely Rita, A Day In The Life

The Twilight Sad

Nobody Wants To Be Here And Nobody Wants To Leave

Fatcat

Star Rating: ****

Following a period of career-questioning ennui which accompanied the end of their last promotional campaign, for 2012’s third album No One Can Ever Know, Kilsyth’s Twilight Sad have returned with a record which doesn’t so much represent the peak of their career to date as carry on the high standards they’ve never let flag. Never afraid of a bit of miserablism, their reverb-heavy guitar conjures deserted streets at night even as titles like I Could Give You All That You Don’t Want and Drown So I Can Watch push the boundaries of parody. James Graham’s warm and heavily accented vocal brings life to a strong record which should appeal to fans of The Cure and Editors. DP

Download: There’s A Girl In The Corner, It Never Was The Same

JAZZ

Diana Panton

Red

Inkustik INAK9129CD

Star Rating: ****

Nope, I’d never heard of her either, but this Canadian songbird’s pure, breathy vocals are a delight that’s sweet and lovely but not at all cloying or smarmy, as is often the case with fresh-sounding jazz singers. A student of Norma Winstone and Sheila Jordan, Panton has notched up six recordings as leader and this album, which features sumptuous arrangements for strings and jazz group, has been conceived as a sequel to her previous one, Pink, which celebrated first love. This one “is a profound expression about deeper love” – in other words, it’s all about love going right. We can surely expect the next CD to be entitled Blue – and to come with a five-Kleenex warning. Alison Kerr

Download: Say It (Over And Over Again)

FOLK

Orfila

Writing On The Wall

Annexe Music SBMCDA01

Star Rating: ***

Here are two sisters with one brother: Abi, Louise and Matt Orfila. They all play acoustic instruments and write their own songs, performed in fine three-part harmony vocals as only siblings can do. Add the drummer from Steeleye Span, the bass player from Lindisfarne, a guitarist who is ex-Wishbone Ash and a bit of fiddle – and you’ve got their 11-track first album. The songs are all about love going wrong. Straightforward complaints from young bruised hearts, but with harmonies both crisp and assured, these songs from the south of England sound better than their lyrics might suggest. Norman Chalmers

Download: I’m A Train

CLASSICAL

Claude Debussy

Orchestral Works

Hänssler Classic CD 93.315

Star Rating: *****

Some musicians are drawn to a particular instrument through childhood experience or later discovery: Bostonian Elise Hall took up the saxophone in her late forties based on her doctor’s advice that she needed something to strengthen her lungs. For Claude Debussy, the result was two decades of musical angst trying to respond to Hall’s commission (others went to Fauré and d’Indy). By the time his Rhapsodie Pour L’orchestre Et Saxophone was premièred, Debussy had been dead for a year and Hall had five more years of performing ahead. This album of Debussy’s orchestral works by the Stuttgart Radio Symphony under Heinz Holliger includes his familiar but still highly atmospheric Prélude À L’après-Midi D’un Faune with the original version of his Images Pour Orchestre and earliest Rhapsodie, this time for clarinet. Alexander Bryce

Download: Ibéria: Le Matin D’un Jour De Fête

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