With his reintroduction to the pop world behind him, renowned singer-songwriter Yusuf (the artist known as Cat Stevens) is ready to once again strike up an intimate relationship with his audience. After retreating from the pop stage following classic '70s multi-platinum albums such as Tea For The Tillerman and Teaser And The Firecat and acclaimed hits such as Wild World, Peace Train, Moonshadow, Morning Has Broken and Father And Son, Yusuf returned in late 2006 with his first pop album in 28 years. Now he's back again with a second album, Roadsinger (To Warm You Through The Night).
I was absent from my audience for so long, Yusuf says, people thought another album would never come. The 2006 album, An Other Cup, was a surprise. With this new album, the distance is much less. I'm back to doing what I do best, painting pictures with music and storytelling on a very human, personal, intuitive level through lyrics and song, so I can help people feel good again. I guess in some ways the new album picks up where the Cat Stevens the public knows left off.
The album, Roadsinger (To Warm You Through The Night), was produced by the now singularly named Yusuf with help from Martin Terefe (James Morrison, Jason Mraz, Martha Wainwright), and recorded around the world. Guests include Morrison, Michelle Branch and Holly Williams (granddaughter of Hank Williams, Sr.).
The new album is a response to the way An Other Cup was received, Yusuf explains. Fans said they wanted to hear more of me with a guitar. So, this album is much more folk-tale oriented. Also, apart from one track, all of it was recorded live. I listened to a lot of' '70s L.A. music, such as Joni Mitchell, James Taylor, Carole King, and it inspired me to go back into that intimate style of recording. The songs are somewhat autobiographical but abstract enough so everyone can relate to them and connect them to their own lives.
The title track, Roadsinger, unfolds the tale of an outcast who revisits his old hometown; along the empty street a child peeks from behind a store window and gives an innocent smile out of the shadows of prejudice. The theme of a journey has always been big with me, says Yusuf. A journey that was unexpectedly cut short in 2004 was when Yusuf was flying from his London home to Washington, D.C., en route to a meeting with Dolly Parton, who had recorded Peace Train several years earlier and wanted Yusuf to play guitar on her cover of his Where Do the Children Play. The incident that made headlines was resolved in 2006 and Yusuf's new song Boots and Sand resulted.
There are plenty people who sing, but not enough who have walked far from their block, he says. I embraced an unexpected spiritual path that was confusing for many (converting to Islam in 1977). Sadly, I'm still often misunderstood. Some people want to put me into their own one-sided view, but I don't fit those limitations. My world is still borderless and wide. The removal of conflict and establishment of peace has always been my global objective. It's a shame that lot of people, including some Muslims, overlook the name Islam, which actually comes from the word 'Peace' in Arabic.
The forthcoming album also showcases some songs from his upcoming musical Moonshadow. The story takes place on a planet of perpetual night where only the moon's shine lights the darkness; it is about a boy's meeting with his Moonshadow and the adventures they share in search for the a world of the sunlight and happiness. As well as having many new songs, the surrealistic musical, Moonshadow also weaves classic songs from his past, including Morning Has Broken, Wild World and The First Cut Is The Deepest.
Yusuf's return to his guitar came about when his teenage artist-musician son, Muhammad (aka Yoriyos), brought one home again. One morning, Yusuf was alone in the lounge when he looked over and felt a draw of curiosity overtake him. He slowly picked it up. I put my fingers on the fretboard to make a 'C' chord, he remembers, and surprised myself, It's still there! It felt right. So I started playing again. On the forthcoming album, Yusuf even plays electric guitar on a couple of tracks, along with keyboards. This part of my career feels similar in one sense to when I began, Yusuf reflects. I had to get past the songs on Mona Bone Jakon before I could move on to Tea For The Tillerman, etc. This time around it was the same story: I laid the groundwork with my debut album, An Other Cup, which inspired a great new collection of songs and scribblings. I had quite a few in my back pocket and again it was my son who sparked the next step. He said, 'Isn't it time to start recording a new album?' And it was.