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Archive for January 13th, 2007

Yusuf – “An Other Cup”

A track by track review of the new album from Yusuf Islam (aka Cat Stevens).

1. “Midday (Avoid City After Dark)” – A nice opening. I could probably do without the horns, but this song feels much like classic Cat Stevens, and the odd abridgment in the title (noticeably not “Avoid the City After Dark”) all feel like his brand of originality. And the lyrics are clever and compelling. I felt that this one was a bit shady on first listen, but it’s growing on me rapidly, and I think it might be one of the best on the album.

2. “Heaven / Where True Love Goes” – A reworking of a bit of “Foreigner Suite.” A nice little acoustic number, very reminiscent of old Cat Stevens, this is also a strong tune. It does feel a bit like a Cat Stevens B-side more than a full-on song, as does much of the album, but that happens to artists when they age, so I can forgive that. It’s nice.

3. “Maybe There’s a World” – Probably the closest this album gets to what you’d expect. Old Cat Stevens style guitar strumming, with an older, more spiritual voice. Another excellent song, but still in that uncomfortable territory of ‘B-side feelings.’ “I have dreamt of a place and time where nobody gets annoyed / I must admit I’m not there yet, but something’s keeping me going.” “How nice” indeed.

4. “One Day at a Time” – A nice little song. The slowest and least interested in being a catchy-pop-tune so far. Again, very good, very enjoyable, very lovely – perhaps even my favorite song on the album so far – but one continues to wonder if any of the ‘oh my god this song is good’ moments are going to occur on this album. It’s only really at the bridge (two thirds of the way thru) that it builds any sort of intensity and makes you sit back in your chair and pay attention. Not a criticism, just a building awareness of the style of this album – adult background noise, or relaxing music for mellow evenings with wine.

5. “When Butterflies Leave” – The first of two spoken-poems with musical accompaniment on the album. For me, things like this have to be really special to be worth bothering with. This one is not worth bothering with.

6. “In the End” – Lyrically, this is quite the sly little tune. One of only two tracks that appear to play up religious belief (this one = final judgment), is written in just such a way that it could also be about the truth being impossible to hide. Everything is known eventually, and “evil’s going down in the end.” Musically this is about as far away from the Cat Stevens we used to know that this album (or any Yusuf work) can get. This is one of those songs that really show how long its been since Yusuf was Cat Stevens – the young Cat could’ve done this with an undeniable fire, relying on his guitar and the gravel in his throat. Meanwhile, Yusuf feels a bit resigned, and does it with a piano and bongos. Good, but almost an entirely different artist from the man I used to know. I actually liked this one less on the second listen. I’m not sure what else to say…

7. “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” – Where did this come from? After six tracks of the somewhat pale imitation of young Cat, this song is as deserving as anything of the name Cat Stevens. Slow, morose, and walking a tightrope between the beautiful and the sinister, this is the Cat Stevens that I fell in love with (although with an orchestra rather than a guitar). Fabulous. This is the one I’d buy the album for. Strangely enough, it’s also the only one on the album not credited to Yusuf. It’s a cover of a song that he always claimed was perfectly descriptive of how people saw him after his conversion to Islam. Whatever the back-story, he nails this song.

8. “I Think I See the Light” – Excellent choice by Yusuf to follow the previous track with a rapidly paced, more rock-based tune. This is another of those that attempts old style Cat Stevens – the phenomenal pop-tune. But it sort of cheats, it’s another reworking of old material. Considering that I’m not exactly a Cat Stevens aficionado, I can’t say how much of this is old work and how much new. (The original is apparently on “Mona Bone Jakon.”) It’s good though, so it doesn’t matter much to me.

9. “Whispers from a Spiritual Garden” – The second little spoken-word thing. I have nothing against spoken-word in musical performance on principal, but I can’t help but hear the opening of Spinal Tap’s “Stonehenge” here. So I get nothing really from this but unintentional humor.

10. “The Beloved” – The other overtly religious song on the album, and one that is much more difficult to read metaphorically as about something else. This is an exultant and joyously ‘eastern’ inflected song (complete with a guest vocalist), but I find it a bit difficult to enjoy. I just don’t handle ‘praise songs’ well, no matter what the religion. It’s still Cat Stevens and it’s still nicely performed (actually, Yusuf’s voice might be strongest here), but I sort of have to tune out the ‘praise God’ overtones. Sort of like Sting’s “Desert Rose,” but irritatingly about God rather than dreams…

11. “Greenfields, Golden Sands” – This one is supposedly a previously unrecorded song he wrote in 1968…and it shows. It’s suffused with the longing and slightly world-weary tone of the young Cat Stevens. Very good…though it’s also clear why it wasn’t recorded back in the day. It’s not a powerhouse number, but it’s a worthy inclusion to the catalog. And the production is nice on this song; some excellent little electronic warbles that barely register in the background. Nice, though yet another ‘B-side.’

Overall, this is an adequate and welcome return from an artist sadly missed for the last thirty years. The first listen was questionable, as there are few ‘singles’ on here, and few that you will even think to consider a ‘favorite Cat Stevens song,’ but after two listens this is really worth owning. On the first listen, I liked the second half best; on the second listen it was exactly the reverse.

Whatever you like best, this isn’t likely to be your favorite Cat Stevens album, but it does what it is trying to do quite well. As I said before, it’s in the arena of either background music, or as a stand-in for a reflective evening with an old pal. Very mellow, soothing, and aware. If Cat Stevens was your grandfather, he would sing you these songs in the living room, and you would feel at home…

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Invisibility

Just wanted to draw everyone’s attention to this picture, because I honestly can’t recall ever having seen its like before.

Over on slate, in the middle of this stream of valueless yakuza pictures (I say valueless, because half of these pictures are just men in suits and could be anybody), I found the following photo:

Homeless and Yakuza

On the right is the Yakuza. What’s that on the left?

That is the first homeless Japanese person I believe I’ve ever seen.

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Odd coincidence.

In a combination of continued historical mindedness and absolute mind-crushing boredom, I started fiddling around with my Family Tree program this evening.  It’s a copy of the family history as assembled by the McMillan family, so it’s lopsided and has gaping holes which I felt like trying to plug.  Since all that is available to me is the internet at the moment, I did some searching around.

Lo and behold, a copy of the biography on my great grandfather, Haver Bruner, was recently sold on Ebay-Canada for $20.  Even being an antique buff, I somehow never expected to see a copy of that book for sale.  (I have one, so it’s not like I’m shopping for it.  I just didn’t expect to see it.)

Anyway, not much happened as far as online research goes.  The holes in the Family Tree are currently so large that I need access to my grandmother’s historical records so that I can flesh out the information before I try tracking anything down.  Typing in the names of 80 year old plains-state residents doesn’t get you very far on the internet.

Who knew?

Anyway, here’s the cover of the book via a shamelessly stolen auction photo.

Mr. Broadwater

He died when I was 53 days old.  No wonder he feels like such a completely distant stranger, though he was actually my mother’s grandpa.

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