After 28 years, Yusuf (formerly Cat Stevens) has returned to release his first album of modern pop songs since 1978's Back To Earth. Yusuf's unique, unmistakable voice is as vibrant on An Other Cup as it was on the classics such as ''Wild World'', ''Father and Son'', ''Morning Has Broken'', ''Moonshadow'', ''Peace Train'', and countless others that made a nation fall in love. After a near death experience in the Pacific Ocean in 1978, Yusuf experienced a spiritual turning point, which included an indefinite hiatus from his multi-platinum recording career. After spending the past 28 years working as an advocate for peace, striving towards an end to poverty in war-torn nations and founding schools throughout London, Yusuf has returned to music to the delight of millions of fans. An Other Cup, produced by Rick Nowells (Madonna, Dido), marks a historic return by an Artist whose music and life means so much to so many. Of his return to music, Yusuf says, ''I feel right about making music and singing about life in this fragile world again. It is important for me to help bridge the cultural gaps others are sometimes frightened to cross.''
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 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