Album: Yusuf, Roadsinger (Island)

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The Independent Culture

Just as he had to get past the songs on Mona Bone Jakon in order to get to the material for his major breakthrough with Tea For The Tillerman, explains Yusuf, so did he have to work through the songs on his comeback album An Other Cup in order to reach the more satisfying condition represented by Roadsinger.

Since that 2006 return to recording, he's also managed to relocate the particular style and spirit which brought him such success as Cat Stevens: Roadsinger could easily be slotted in among Tillerman, Teaser And The Firecat and Buddha And The Chocolate Box so smoothly does it replicate the easygoing troubadour sensibility of his Seventies work.

In part, he admits, this was the result of listening again to a lot of his singer-songwriter contemporaries from that period, notably the California confessional crew of Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and their friends.

He's also plugged back into what he claims is his natural forte of storytelling songs and fables, albeit filtered through the transforming spiritual revelations of his life. The result is an album which mingles concerned observations on social and political situations with mythic allegories and quest songs, all presented in a sort of diffident modesty. In places, it slips down so easily you barely notice the song's passing.

The sombre, short "World O' Darkness" offers his most explicit depiction of a society eroded by selfishness, its antidote hinted at in "Roadsinger" itself, where the hostility directed at the traveller is fractured by the shy smile of a child. The track's familiar troubadour theme of a quest for spiritual peace is one that Yusuf returns to time and again here, from the opening "Welcome Home" to "The Rain", which starts out expressing foreboding at the state of the world, but becomes a re-telling of the Noah's Ark myth. "This Glass World", a song displaying the delicate texture of early Tim Buckley, offers another critique of society, specifically the inequality separating haves from have-nots, a divide exacerbated by the glass walls – shop windows, or TV screens – brandishing that inequality in the faces of the poor. Somewhat ominously, it's taken from Yusuf's forthcoming musical Moonshadow, presumably a more spiritually-slanted version of those retro-fitted stage shows utilising the back catalogues of such as Abba, Queen and Madness. "Be What You Must" sounds like it might also fit in well with such an endeavour, particularly when the children's choir joins in in the later stages: certainly, it contains the album's most illuminating adage, "To be what you must, you must give up what you are" – lines which apply not just to Yusuf himself but, presumably, to seekers everywhere.

Download this: "Thinking 'Bout You", "Roadsinger", "This Glass World", "Be What You Must"

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