It’s been a bit since Cat Stevens—who seems to be going by Yusuf, sans the Islam, now—released an album. And 2009’s Roadsinger sounded exactly like it should’ve, with catchy folk singles featuring his signature voice. In the same vein, Tell ’Em I’m Gone, Yusuf’s concentrated foray into blues territory, sounds much like listeners would expect. It’s Cat Stevens singing rhythm and blues, with a combination of originals and covers that showcase attractive playing (legendary guitarist Richard Thompson helps here) and production (cue Rick Rubin). Best of all, his voice remains intact, providing a familiar and favorable sound—especially on the simple “Cat & The Dog Trap”—whether Yusuf is quietly singing or leaning more toward a passionate bellow.
Other originals like “Editing Floor Blues” provide a more autobiographical look into Yusuf’s life, beginning with early dreams of fame before detailing his religious conversion and the unfortunate public backlash surrounding the Salman Rushdie incident. Yusuf is steadfast in pointing out that the truth is often ignored or sometimes all together demolished on the “editing floor.” Heavy guitar backs the story, which ends with Yusuf comparing his negative media encounters to Socrates’ trials. Given the gritty charm of Tell ’Em I’m Gone, it’s safe to assume Yusuf will fare better than the Greek philosopher did.
Although some of the covers seem to be lacking—a slightly reimagined “You Are My Sunshine” is difficult to take seriously—a faithful take on Edgar Winter’s “Dying To Live” fits Yusuf’s lyrical aesthetic perfectly. With the song’s determined words, he shows that the years behind him are as vital as those still to come. Hopefully this will translate into more music and a tour schedule without a 35-year gap.