Three decades after decisively trading fame and his superstar moniker for the spiritual devotion for which his restless '70s songs seemed a perpetual quest, the singer-songwriter born Steven Demetre Georgiou has successfully resurrected Cat Stevens's muse, if not his persona. The musician whose dedicated embrace of Islam embroiled him in controversy frequently sings its praises on An Other Cup
, both boldly (the Prophet-lionizing "The Beloved") and with delicate reflection ("Whispers from a Spiritual Garden" reworks Sufi mystic Jalaluddin Rumi). Given the political and religious misconceptions that have often plagued him, he's mused for years that his theme song should be Nina Simone's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood"; here Yusuf makes good on the promise, conjuring a cover steeped in brooding elegance with the assistance of Madonna/Dido/Rod Stewart producer Rick Nowells.
Yet, as "Heaven/Where True Love Goes" attests, the musician remains as masterfully adept at blurring distinctions between spiritual and romantic ecstasies as he is at evoking his trademark idealism in the lilting harmonies of "Maybe There's a World." Fans of his vintage catalog will find intriguing riches outside the more spiritually focused works here, too, with the familiar idealism of the previously unrecorded 1968 song "Green Fields, Golden Sands" and the muscular "I Think I See the Light" further evoking the glories of Cat past. The production leans towards the spare and shrewdly contemporary, whether casting the effusive opener "Midday" in Paul Simon's spirit of cross-cultural adventure, underscoring the melodic charms of "One Day at a Time," or suffusing "When Butterflies Leave" and his autobiographical cover of Simone with graceful, neo-classical strings. Considering the career time lapse, it's a remarkably strong effort, yet one inspired by a gentility and spiritual inquisitiveness that's comfortably familiar. --Jerry McCulley
(File: CAT STEVENS) first album of original songs since his withdrawal from the pop world. UK edition with BONUS TRACK