Music Review: Tell 'Em I'm Gone

Spirituality & Health Magazine
reviewed by Damon Orion

Tell ’Em I’m Gone 
Legacy Recordings

Singer/songwriter Yusuf’s voice still sounds much as it did when he went by the more familiar name of Cat Stevens, but the music on his latest album is grittier than anything from his back catalog. Coproduced by Rick Rubin and featuring a small assembly of talented guest musicians, Tell ’Em I’m Gone is a vibrant, accessible tribute to its creator’s blues/R&B roots.

On the whole, this album’s five original compositions come off as the work of a musician who has fully integrated his past as a folk superstar with his present life as a Muslim. On the rich, hypnotic “I Was Raised in Babylon,” some ghostly acoustic leads from guitarist Richard Thompson accentuate Yusuf’s lament on a society that has “let go the rope of God for a handful of gold.” The energetic, tempo-jumping “Editing Floor Blues” finds its singer recounting his journey through obscurity, fame, and spirituality, not neglecting to address the controversy surrounding his alleged support for the religiously sanctioned execution of Salman Rushdie in 1989. (“I said, ‘Oh, boy, I’d never say that!’ and we got down to the truth of it, but they never printed that.”) 

Half of the songs on Tell ’Em I’m Gone are cover tunes, many of them hard-driving blues standards united by a theme of freedom from oppression. On one of the album’s most unusual selections, a surprisingly potent blues-rock reinvention of “You Are My Sunshine,” the impassioned chanting of the Tuareg group Tinariwen lends to the impression that the song is being sung to a divine being rather than an earthly one. It’s a soulful expression of the spiritual yearning that has remained central to Yusuf’s music as he has passed from one stage of life to the next.

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