Sunday, 21 June 2009

"Teaser And The Firecat: Deluxe Edition" by CAT STEVENS (2009 Universal/Island 2CD 'Deluxe Edition' Reissue and Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Listen To The Wind Of My Soul..."

Already a four-album veteran by the time he reached 1971 (2 Sixties efforts for Decca and two more mature outings for Island Records) – Cat Stevens launched "Teaser And The Firecat" in September of 1971 in its tactile matt gatefold sleeve. As lovely as albums get – "Peace Train", "Moonshadow" and the almost Gospel-ancient "Morning Has Broken" number only three of its many charms.

And like the albums "Mona Bone Jakon" and "Tea For The Tillerman" from 1970 that preceded it (April and November) – the new LP from the handsome Greek Troubadour only cemented what many already knew in bedsits all around the world – here was a singer-songwriter with massive crossover appeal hitting his stride. "Jakon" was good with moments of brilliance (a step away from the sheer Pop of "Matthew And Son") while only six months later "Tillerman" showed huge progress in "Sad Lisa", "Longer Boats", "On The Road To Find Out" and the cross-generational song "Father And Son". But you could argue that "Teaser" is his first 'perfect' album - it's all good - and much of it way better than you remember.

The single CD remaster came in 2000 as a bare-bones 10-track reissue and that was sweet too – but given their huge and acknowledged popularity - it's hardly surprising then that Universal has chosen both 1970's “Tea For The Tillerman" and 1971's "Teaser And The Firecat" as Cat Stevens catalogue candidates for 'Deluxe Edition' superstardom. And they've done a sweet job on the pair. Here are the Moonshadows...

UK released 25 May 2009 – "Teaser And The Firecat: Deluxe Edition" by CAT STEVENS on Universal/Island 060251 7870918 (Barcode 602517870918) is a 2CD Remaster with 10 Bonus Tracks that plays out as follows:

Disc 1 "Teaser And The Firecat" Album (32:56 minutes):
1. The Wind
2. Rubylove
3. If I Laugh
4. Changes IV
5. How Can I Tell You
6. Tuesday's Dead [Side 2]
7. Morning Has Broken
8. Bitterblue
9. Moonshadow
10. Peace Train
Tracks 1 to 10 are his 4th studio album "Teaser And The Firecat" – released September 1971 in the UK on Island Records ILPS 9154 and October 1971 in the USA on A&M Records SP 4313 – it peaked at No. 3 and No. 2 on the UK and US album charts.

Disc 2 "Deluxe Extras" (34:36 minutes)
1. Moonshadow (Live At The Troubadour)
2. Rubylove (Live At The Troubadour)
3. If I Laugh – Demo Version
4. Changes IV – Demo Version
5. How Can I Tell You – Demo Version)
6. Morning Has Broken – Demo Version
7. Bitterblue (Live At The Royal Albert Hall)
8. Tuesday's Dead (From The Majikat Earth Tour)
9. Peace Train (Live At The Royal Albert Hall 2003)
10. The Wind (From Yusef's Café)

Produced by Paul Samwell-Smith - the LP featured his house band of Alun Davies on Second Guitar, Larry Steele on Bass and Congas and Gerry Conway on Drums – Andreas Toumazis provides the Greek Bouzouki.

The gatefold inner flaps have stills from the "Teaser" cartoon and live shots of Cat from the period while the beautifully rendered 24-page long booklet reproduces reminiscences from producer Paul Samwell-Smith, guitarist Alun Davies and of course Cat Stevens himself - all nestled within lots of full colour stills from the Teaser animation film and lyrics to the songs. The colour stills give it an almost childlike feel - very nicely done.

The Remaster by TED JENSEN is analogue warm and full of presence. This is a gorgeous sounding album on any format and one of the finest examples of singer-songwriter you can get your grubby mitts on. Check out the beautiful fidelity on "The Wind" as he sings “...I listen to the wind...the wind of my soul...” – it feels a friend calling to your door just when you need it the most. Soothing music from a heart wanting to spread solace through song. Other examples include the wonderfully uplifting "Rubylove", the aching "If I Laugh", the flick-strum "Bitterblue" and the real longing in "How Can I Tell You" - all album secrets you need on your Hi Fi hub.

The good news for rabid fans is that Disc 2 (34:36 minutes) has some genuinely stunning tracks on it actually worthy of the title 'bonus'. "Rubylove", "If I Laugh", "Changes IV", "How Can I Tell You" and "Morning Has Broken" are all Vocals/Acoustic demo versions recorded in Morgan Studios in London in February 1971 (a month before the album was recorded) and they're beautiful. Stripped down and bare, the almost fully formed melodies come shining through. The famously superb piano work by Rick Wakeman of Yes on the finished version of "Morning Has Broken" is replaced here with an acoustic guitar, which makes for a fascinating listen.

"Moonshadow" was recorded live at the Troubadour Club in Los Angeles in 1971 and features album session-man ALUN DAVIES on Guitar and Vocals - it's well recorded and a lovely version. "Bitterblue" is a Royal Albert Hall performance from 1972, but it's not great because the sound quality is rubbish. Better is the World-Music Meets-Acapella version of "Peace Train" from 2003, which throws a new slant on an overly familiar song. 

He'd return in 1972 and 1973 with equally superb "Catch Bull At Four” and "Foreigner" stretching his songmanship to a whole side on the latter – but for many the sheer simplicity and warmth of "Teaser" feels like the kid within – laughing – heading home to a better place.

"...Leaping and hopping on a moon shadow..." – let this one follow you home.

PS: I've also reviewed the 2CD Deluxe Edition of “Tea For The Tillerman", the single discs of "Mona Bone Jakon" and "Foreigner" and the 4CD Box Set "On The Road To Find Out" (aka "Cat Stevens")...

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