Sound — 6
Dedicated classic rock followers may not immediately resonate with the name Yusuf, however they're most likely well familiar with his catalog. Yusuf Islam has been writing and recording material for more than four decades; material which has gone on to resonate with millions of listeners and generations of fans. Such songs as "The First Cut Is the Deepest," "Wild World," "Peace Train" and "Moonshadow" remain prolific numbers from his catalog, and before you head down to the comments to issue your corrections, Yusuf is most readily known by his long-abandoned stage name Cat Stevens. Following a nearly three decade hiatus from music, Stevens reinvented his career under the name Yusuf on his 2006 studio album, "An Other Cup," which upon favorable critical and commercial response was met with a follow-up, 2009's "Roadslinger."
Returning with his third mainstream release since his return to music, Yusuf has issued a new compilation of original compositions and impressionable takes on relatively well known numbers. Musically, the album alternates between the recognizable folk rock approach centered around articulate acoustic arpeggios and soulful lead vocals, and the somewhat bizarre implementation of R&B which first began surfacing through early Cat Stevens records in the 1970s. For the most part, Yusuf's voice has never suited the artistic stylings of R&B music, and so it's during tracks like the, albeit grooving, "You Are My Sunshine" than the album reaches an uncomfortable contrast from the otherwise solid performance which we find during the opening cut "I Was Raised in Babylon" and "Gold Digger," both of which prominently showcase a familiar combination of harmony-driven refrains and unplugged guitar work.
While the original songs easily outweigh Yusuf's take on blues staples in terms of memorable quality, however that's not to say there aren't some memorable revisitations to be found here. Choice piano accompaniment provides his version of Edgar Winter's "Dying to Live" with a beneficial degree of melancholy to the laidback track, whereas crunching steel strings serve as the only backing arrangement on Yusuf's rendition of Jimmy Reed's "Big Boss Man," the latter of which has previously served as a popular song of choice for such artists as B.B. King and Elvis Presley, amongst others. However as we previously noted, it's when Yusuf takes command through original numbers that "Tell 'Em I'm Gone" becomes a worthwhile listen; the aforementioned "Gold Digger" and closing tune "Doors" are authentic to the "definitive" Cat Stevens sound which Yusuf will always be associated with, and also include solid guest appearances from the South African Vocal Choir whom join voices with our artist of topic for some memorable group harmonies.
Lyrics — 7
Even when the album ventures into questionable musical territory, it's the lyrical execution of Yusuf that keeps the entire album moving forward. While it isn't always the smoothest transition in regards to musical direction, Yusuf maintains the sonic steed with his characteristic singing style which hasn't varied much over the course of his career. His complimentary decision to remain in his lower range has much to do with the fact that there's nearly no difference in the quality of both his tone and delivery than what we found on "Tea for the Tillerman" more than forty years ago.
Overall Impression — 7
Rhythm and blues aside, Yusuf provides a largely concrete compilation of material on his first studio album in five years, "Tell 'Em I'm Gone." When the direction is particularly centered towards his acoustic guitar playing and lyrical delivery, and leans away from outside influences, you can rarely go wrong on this new effort from the man formerly known as Cat Stevens.