Thursday, 17 November 2016

"Mona Bone Jakon" by CAT STEVENS [feat Peter Gabriel] (2000 Universal Island Remasters CD – Ted Jensen Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...

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"...Won't Be Lonely For Long..."

After two pop albums with Deram ("Matthew And Son" and "New Masters" in March and December of 1967) and a two-year spell battling a bout of TB that nearly killed him - it was time for Steven Demetri Georgiou to become a proper singer-songwriter. CAT STEVENS signed to Chris Blackwell's mighty Island Records and the label's built-in policy of artistic-freedom saw the London lad with cat's eyes explode with creativity. And that flourishing sneaked in with April 1970's underrated and quietly forgotten "Mona Bone Jakon" LP.

Next port of call would be "Tea For A Tillerman" in November 1970 that would yield huge hits like "Wild World", "Hard Headed Woman", "Longer Boats" and the generation gap song "Father And Son" - the LP landing Cat Stevens in every bedsit up and down the country and around the globe. But it all with began with the rather solemn "Mona Bone Jakon" earlier in that mercurial year - 1970. Time to revisit the tearful dustbin on this gorgeous Remaster...

UK released August 2000 (May 2000 in the USA) - "Mona Bone Jakon" by CAT STEVENS on Universal/Island IMCD 267 / 546 883-2 (Barcode 731454688321) is a straightforward CD Remaster of the 11-track 1970 LP and plays out as follows (35:13 minutes):

1. Lady D'Arbanville
2. Maybe You're Right
3. Pop Star
4. I Think I See The Light
5. Trouble
6. Mona Bone Jakon {Side 2]
7. I Wish, I Wish
8. Katmandu
9. Time
10. Fill My Eyes
11. Lilywhite
Tracks 1 to 11 are his 3rd studio album "Mona Bone Jakon" - released April 1970 in the UK on Island ILPS 9118 and August 1970 in the USA on A&M Records SP-4260. Produced by PAUL SAMWELL-SMITH (all songs by CS also) - it peaked at No.63 on UK LP charts in June 1970 (didn't chart USA).

CAT STEVENS – Guitars and Keyboards and Lead Vocals
ALUN DAVIES – Additional Guitar
HARVEY BURNS - Percussion
PETER GABRIEL - Flute on "Katmandu"
DEL NEWMAN - Arranged "Maybe You're Right", "Pop Star" and "Lilywhite" - all others arranged by Cat Stevens

The 12-page booklet reproduces the handwritten lyrics that were on a rare insert that came with original UK 'Pink Island' label vinyl LPs back in April 1970. Starting a long tradition that would continue throughout the whole of the Seventies - the front cover artwork is his own painting - the rear sleeve colour photo is on the last page. It's a damn shame that no-one thought to expand the booklet into even the most basic liner notes (a history) – or repro the rare UK picture sleeve to the 3-track Maxi-Single for "Lady D'Arbanville" on Island WIP 6086. That Maxi Single and its June 1970 release went Top Ten to No. 8 helping the LP to actually chart in the UK at the lowly placing of No. 63 ("Time" and "Fill My Eyes" were the B-sides). BILL LEVENSON supervised the reissue while TED JENSEN did the Remaster from original two-track analogue master tapes at Sterling Sound in New York in December 1999. This CD sounds gorgeous - all the instruments clear, strong and present in your speakers. As it's largely acoustic too - it rattles with beautiful clarity...

It opens with an obvious single - the lovely mid-paced "Lady D'Arbanville". Actually it's darker than its pleasant strum would initially suggest - the warmth of that acoustic soundstage countered with cheery lines like " your grave you lie...I'll always be with you...this rose will never die..." A hurting smoocher follows - this time Cat leading with piano on "Maybe You're Right". It’s a rather stunning little song that sounds like it could easily have been on "Tea For A Tillerman". With it's strings and deep melody - I can't help thinking it would have made a great follow up 45 - but Island let "Lady D'Arbanville" be the only 7" single lifted from the album. The rather acidic "Pop Star" whines just a little too much and just seems strangely out of place (a B-side) - but at least as he sings "...going to the cold bank..." the acoustics are crystal (a great transfer this). Side 1 ends with "I Think I See The Light" - a slight return to the Pop sound of the Deram days - and the beautiful "Trouble" - a song that exudes a tangible hurt (superb remastered sound).

Side 2 opens with the short and echoed title track "Mona Bone Jakon" where he sings 'jack-on' and tells us 'it won't be lonely for long' - whatever that means. A pencilled face with a closed-up mouth stares down at the lyrics for "I Wish, I Wish" in the booklet (his own sketch) - a strange hybrid sound that's somewhere between Deram and Island - and dig that fabulous Acoustic Guitar solo (Alun Davies I'd swear). The catgut strings of a Spanish acoustic guitar squeak throughout "Katmandu" where we hear the occasional Flute flourishes of Genesis' Peter Gabriel making a few bob before stardom on Charisma Records. It's a tad hissy this track but the audio is magnificent - Jensen has wisely let it breath. At 1:26 minutes "Time" is short but wow what a gorgeous little melody - him on acoustic with the occasional piano note nipping in and out like a jet (treated production). It segues into the equally pretty "Fill My Eyes" - a song with a sweet chorus. It finishes on another LP highlight - the ballad "Lilywhite" - Newman's arrangement of those big strings and cello notes elevating the song into something special - especially in that gorgeous fade-out passage.

"Mona Bone Jakon" isn't as special as the "Tea For The Tillerman" and "Teaser And The Firecat" LPs that would follow and make his name - instead it's a four-star effort 'getting' to those two stabs of genuine five-star greatness. But it has those moments and exudes the sort of acoustic melodies and song-sound that made Cat Stevens such a global musical phenomenon. Reacquaint yourself with this tunesmith's beginnings...especially with its fab new audio...

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