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CD Reviews: Review of Gold by Cat Stevens
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Cat Stevens: Gold (A & M  2005)

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You know, it’s really, really annoying that Cat Stevens is remembered by more people these days for being of the Islamic faith than he is for his music. It wasn’t always thus; in fact, for years, it wasn’t even that big a deal.

Stevens converted to Islam in 1978, changed his name to Yusuf Islam, and lived a pretty quiet life of retirement from the music business. It wasn’t until a decade later that people started to make a big deal out of it, and it all started with the press misrepresenting a statement he made in regards to the fatwah made by the Ayatollah Khomeini against author Salman Rushdie. They implied that he supported it; he only stated the Islamic ruling on the matter, later issuing a statement clarifying that, “if we can't get satisfaction within the present limits of the law, this does not mean that we should step outside of the law to find redress.” Facts be damned, 10,000 Maniacs – okay, probably just Natalie Merchant – nonetheless demanded that their cover of Stevens’ “Peace Train” be removed from all future pressings of their album, In My Tribe. Then, in 2004, Stevens made headlines again when he was denied entry to the United States because he somehow ended up on a terrorist watch list.

Well, look, just try to forget all that stuff. If you check out the 2-disc collection of Stevens’ best work – part of A&M’s ongoing Gold series – you’ll find 32 good reasons to focus on his music over his faith.

Disc 1 begins with two tracks from Matthew & Son: the title track and “Here Comes My Baby,” the latter coming to prominence a few years ago courtesy of its appearance on the “Rushmore” soundtrack. This pair of breezy, catchy pop songs shows Stevens a fair distance from the folk stylings which would become the hallmark of his career, but, dammit, they’re fun as hell and may well inspire folks to investigate this oft-forgotten disc. From there, however, it’s on to Stevens’ first major hit, “The First Cut Is the Deepest,” which used to be remembered via Rod Stewart’s interpretation but will now probably always be thought of as a Sheryl Crow track. (Ugh.) Some of the other highlights worth particular note are “Where Do the Children Play?” (recently covered by Dolly Parton, with guest guitar by Stevens), “Father and Son” (Johnny Cash and Fiona Apple recorded a duet of the song during the sessions for Cash’s American IV), “Wild World” (wherefore art thou, Maxi Priest?), “Moon Shadow” (done nicely on Mandy Moore’s underrated Coverage), Stevens’ lovely cover of “Morning Has Broken,” and, of course, the aforementioned “Peace Train.”

Disc 2 is a bit more sporadic when it comes to actual hits – “Oh Very Young” and a cover of Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night” are the only two top ten entries to be found – but it provides a greater education of what Stevens was doing in the later period of his recording career. The inclusions from 1977’s Izitso sound a bit dated, particularly the keyboards on “(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard,” but the melodies hold up. Oddly missing from this disc, however, are “Ready” and “Two Fine People,” which were both top 40 hits in 1975…but it seems just a litttttttle suspicious that these tracks both appear on the pre-existing single-disc best-of, thereby meaning that folks will need to buy both to have all of his hit singles.

The big selling point of the set for his longtime fans, however, is the inclusion of a new track. Entitled “Indian Ocean,” the song first emerged early in 2005 as a digital download for charity, to bring money to Small Kindness, which benefits children in the region of Aceh, in Sumatra, which was decimated by the December 2004 tsunami. The track finds Islam sounding pretty much as he has in the past, even briefly cranking up the guitar about 2/3 of the way through the song.

Will Cat Stevens…sorry, I mean Yusuf Islam…ever record another full-length album of proper pop songs? One certainly hopes so. After hearing “Indian Ocean,” it really whets the appetite for more. 

~Will Harris 


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