#206 on Rolling Stoneís 500 Greatest Albums of All Time
With all the boring, mushy, acoustic/piano artists these days, you know, the ones that write sappy generic ballads laced with supposed charm, but have as much appeal as rotting road kill, itís good to hear one of the original singer/songwriters that had that sort of image. Of course Cat Stevens wasnít your average Jack Johnson, John Mayer, James Blunt... ah Iím falling asleep just listing them, his unique lyrics and venturing into different musical ideas made him as an established pop artist, but also became one of the reasons for his decline in popularity. His popularity lasted throughout mostly the early to mid 70s, until his near death experience came where he had a revelation. Stevens released one more album then quit his music career forever, dedicating himself entirely to the Muslim faith and renamed himself Yusuf Islam (his original name was Stephen Demetre Georgiou). Tea for the Tillerman
is undoubtedly his finest moment, though a short album clocking in 36 minutes, its excellently crafted to make one of the best Folk albums to date.
Cat Stevensí main arsenal for these mellow songs are the acoustic guitar and piano of course, which fits Stevensí child-like story telling song writing well. But Tea for the Tillerman
wasnít a childrenís album, its lyrics questioned the busy, non-spiritual world people were living in. Where do the children play?
asks Stevens as he strums peacefully in the opening track, criticizing the industrial world sweetly and innocently through a warm melody. On the Road to Find out
is about finding oneís self through personal journeys and religion, a theme that runs abundantly through the album. Despite itís moral and ethical questioning, the album flows smoothly, perhaps showing that itís better to just feel good than to preach all the time. Whether someone agrees or not with Stevens, the album is equally enjoyable.
The piano plays a bigger role in the songs dealing with more personal things, most noticeably Sad Lisa
. Sticking out like a sore thumb on the album, Sad Lisa projects in the music its sad theme, through the reverb packed haunted piano. Still a quiet song like most of the album, the songís lyrics about a girl lost spiritually to the point of depression are very moving, the musicís beautiful string arrangements embedded perfectly to fit the song. The album is sparse instrumentally, emphasizing its folksiness, but when the string arrangements make an appearance, they make it count. Like Simon & Garfunkel and other similar artists of the time, Stevensí music always has an undercurrent of melancholy. This shown more in his debut as a proper artist Mona Bone Jakon
, which shows Stevenís interest in writing about death. But like this album, Jakon
was still a peaceful, accessible album, though not as confident. Lyrics seem to be the dark side of Catís moon.
Tea for the Tillerman
doesnít contain any filler, canít afford to either at its length, the songs are straightforward with excellent melodies, some even less than a minute. One of those really short songs is But I might Die Tonight
, a classic example of the effectiveness of just Catís earnest voice and his guitar being the base of the song, its melody and climax leaving the listener wishing the song wasnít just 1:55. The album is intimate, the gospel-like backing vocal and chants make the tunes sound like campfire songs. Any fans of classic folk or acoustic 70s artists like James Taylor and Simon & Garfunkel or even fans of gloomier stuff like Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell should definitely pick this up. This album proves that Cat Stevens was always searching for answers spiritually, even before his near-death experience. And I have also been searching for answers- what the hell is a tillerman?