MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
After his late '70s hits like "Peace Train," singer-songwriter Cat Stevens largely left the recording industry. He converted to Islam and changed his name to Yusuf Islam. Now, he's back with his first album of new songs in 28 years. It's called An Other Cup.
Tom Moon has a review.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "IN THE END")
TOM MOON: At first, it sounds like somebody opened up a time capsule from the early 1970s, and out popped a perfectly preserved, patchouli-scented Cat Stevens.
YUSUF ISLAM: (Singing) You can't bargain with the truth, because whether you're right or you're wrong, we are going to know what you've done. We're going to see where you belong in the end.
MOON: His voice is wise and knowing, same as ever. He plays the acoustic guitar in that same reassuring way, ambling through the chord sequences that worked so well decades ago. And just as he did in the 1970s, Yusuf, as he now wants to be known, invites his listeners into a vague non-denominational kind of spirituality.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "GREEN FIELDS AND GOLDEN SANDS")
ISLAM: (Singing) Green fields and golden sands are all I need, are all I want. Let the wind blow hard. I don't mind. Oh. A small house and an olive tree to keep and feed my family.
MOON: That song, which is called "Green Fields and Golden Sands," was the catalyst for the project. Yusuf says he started it during the rock star years and then left it unfinished. When he returned to it, he discovered that he had more to say.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "HEAVEN/WHERE TRUE LOVE GOES")
ISLAM: (Singing) I go where true love goes. I go where true love goes. I go where true love goes. I go where true love goes. And if you walk alone and if you lose your way, don't forget the one who gave you this today. Follow true love. Follow true love. Follow true love. Follow true love.
MOON: Still, there's the nagging sense that things are very different for Yusuf now. He is speaking as a Muslim at a time when the divisions between religions and ideologies are sharper than ever. When he talks of peace, you wonder if he means the same thing he did back when he sang about a peace train. Perhaps that's why he includes a version of The Animals' hit "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" on his new disc.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG "DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD")
ISLAM: (Singing) People, do you understand me now? Sometimes I feel a little mad.
MOON: There's nothing wrong with a lapsed hitmaker on the comeback trail trying to update an old classic. Happens all the time. But this one is a colossally bad choice of a cover, especially for someone with Yusuf's media profile. It comes off as a painfully slow and self-obsessed plea for personal exoneration.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DON'T LET ME BE MISUNDERSTOOD")
ISLAM: (Singing) I'm just a soul whose intentions are good. Oh, lord, please don't let me be misunderstood. Don't let me be misunderstood. Don't let me be misunderstood. I'm just someone whose intentions are good. Don't let me be misunderstood.
MOON: Cat Stevens never needed that kind of a blunt instrument, and hearing the songs he wrote for his new CD, it's clear that neither does Yusuf. He's much more compelling doing that seeker on the journey thing, writing songs that yearn for greater awareness and higher purpose. The new CD "An Other Cup" is almost full of them, but not quite.
BLOCK: The new album from Yusuf is called "An Other Cup." Our reviewer is Tom Moon.