CD Review of An Other Cup by Yusuf

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An Other Cup
starstarstarstarno star Label: YA/Atlantic
Released: 2006
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Yusuf? Who the hell’s Yusuf?

Well, he was born Steven Demetre Georgiou, but you’d have to be quite the trivia buff to recognize him by that name. No, for the glimmers of recognition to really start kicking in, you have to break out the moniker he went by for the majority of his recording career: Cat Stevens.

Most fans of Stevens’ work probably wrote off any chance of seeing another album by him right about the time he converted to the Islamic faith and adopted the name Yusuf Islam. That was probably wise of them; given that it had been 28 years since the guy put out a proper pop album under any name, there was really no reason to think he was ever going to follow up 1978’s Back to Earth. And, yet, here we are in 2006, Yusuf’s released An Other Cup, and damned if he doesn’t sound just like Cat Stevens! Produced by Rick Nowels (Dido, Nelly Furtado), the record maintains a feel throughout that will have you suspecting that Yusuf has spent the last 28 years keeping his voice in perfect working order, waiting for the moment when he could burst back onto the scene and say, “Did you miss me?”

Unfortunately, there’s a sizable percentage of the population who will choose to shun this album for reasons ranging from Yusuf’s misinterpreted comments about Salman Rushdie to his being denied entry to the United States because someone somewhere was concerned that he might have terrorist ties. (This may or may not have arisen because he was en route to a recording session with Dolly Parton.) Those people don’t know what they’re missing out on; An Other Cup is a lovely journey through life that can be appreciated by those of all faiths.

On the album’s horn-powered opening track, “Midday (Avoid City after Dark),” Yusuf sings of life’s simple pleasures, from taking a walk through the park to seeing “children playing in the rain / Splashing boots and kicking mud.” He speaks to the wonders of love on the first single, “Heaven/Where True Love Goes,” and of the concept of a world where peace runs rampant on “Maybe There’s a World.”

I have dreamt of an open world
Borderless and wide
Where the people move from place to place
And nobody’s taking sides
Maybe there’s a world that I’m still to find
Maybe there’s a world that I’m still to find
Open up a world and let me in,
Then there’ll be a new life to begin

Oh, yeah, that’s a terrorist talking.

Given how the media has made repeated attempts to make Yusuf into an enemy of the people simply because of his decision to embrace a faith that’s less than popular in the eyes of the English-speaking world, it’s no wonder he’s included a cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” here. He further tackles the issue on “In the End,” where he sings, “You can’t bargain with the truth / ‘Cause whether you’re right or you’re wrong / We’re gonna know what you’ve done / We’re going to see where you belong / In the end.”

The Celtic-meets-the-Middle-East feel of “The Beloved” features guest vocals from Youssou n'Dour, while the piano pop of “I Think I See the Light” rocks pretty solidly, but the majority of the album is pretty mellow, with the pretty “Greenfields, Golden Sands” ending the proceedings on a particularly sweet and gentle note. If you’ve ever enjoyed the work of Cat Stevens, be it “Peace Train,” “Wild World,” or “Father and Son,” you’ll find that, although his name may have changed, his sound remains the same; as such, there’s no reason to be afraid to take a sip from An Other Cup.

~Will Harris