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Tea for the Tillerman (Deluxe Edition)

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Album Review

Mona Bone Jakon only began Cat Stevens' comeback. Seven months later, he returned with Tea for the Tillerman, an album in the same chamber-group style, employing the same musicians and producer, but with a far more confident tone. Mona Bone Jakon had been full of references to death, but Tea for the Tillerman was not about dying; it was about living in the modern world while rejecting it in favor of spiritual fulfillment. It began with a statement of purpose, "Where Do the Children Play?," in which Stevens questioned the value of technology and progress. "Wild World" found the singer being dumped by a girl, but making the novel suggestion that she should stay with him because she was incapable of handling things without him. "Sad Lisa" might have been about the same girl after she tried and failed to make her way; now, she seemed depressed to the point of psychosis. The rest of the album veered between two themes: the conflict between the young and the old, and religion as an answer to life's questions. Tea for the Tillerman was the story of a young man's search for spiritual meaning in a soulless class society he found abhorrent. He hadn't yet reached his destination, but he was confident he was going in the right direction, traveling at his own, unhurried pace. The album's rejection of contemporary life and its yearning for something more struck a chord with listeners in an era in which traditional verities had been shaken. It didn't hurt, of course, that Stevens had lost none of his ability to craft a catchy pop melody; the album may have been full of angst, but it wasn't hard to sing along to. As a result, Tea for the Tillerman became a big seller and, for the second time in four years, its creator became a pop star. [In 2008, Tea for the Tillerman appeared in a beautifully remastered edition containing a bonus disc with 11 tracks; and a booklet with brief essays by Yusuf Islam (Stevens' current name), producer Paul Samwell-Smith and guitarist Alun Davies, and complete lyrics and photos. The bonus material was written and recorded for the album. The disc opens with the original demo for "Wild World" with Stevens accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, perhaps the first recorded version of the track. This is followed by two selections — "Longer Boats" and "Into White" — taken from a solo concert at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. There's also a great 1969 piano demo of "Miles from Nowhere" that approaches the final album arrangement. The first time Stevens' wonderful studio/backing band appears is on "Hard Headed Woman," from a 1976 tour of Japan. The great Alun Davies, Stevens' right-hand mate on acoustic guitar is here, showing his dusky brilliance. The recording is solid but it's not perfect;, but it contains the drama and intimacy Stevens was capable of injecting his songs with in a live setting. Davies and Stevens' rapport on a stage is even more remarkable than it is in the studio, as a pair of performances from the Majikat Earth Tour in 1976 reveal. "Where Do the Children Play" is one of disc two's real highlights. The real rarities come near the end of the disc, though, with Stevens performing at Yusuf's Café in 2006 accompanied by Davies and a small band. Both songs "Father and Son" and "Wild World" have aged exceedingly well. Making this well worth the money for the update.] ~ William Ruhlmann & Thom Jurek, Rovi


Born: 21 July 1948 in London, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Cat Stevens, born Steven Demetre Georgiou, was the son of a Swedish mother and a Greek father who ran a restaurant in London. He became interested in folk music and rock & roll in his teens while attending Hammersmith College and in 1965 began performing under the name Steve Adams. Mike Hurst, a former member of the folk-pop group the Springfields, who had become a record producer, heard him and took him into a recording studio to cut his composition "I Love My Dog." This demo caused Decca Records...
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