Wednesday, March 5, 2014

"Tea for the Tillerman" by Cat Stevens (November, 1970)

Brad's Take:

Cat Stevens is a name I've heard since I can remember, but I never actually sat down and listened to his music. I've heard a slew of cover versions of his hit "Wild World" (which is featured on this album) so I was interested in checking this out.

Tea for the Tillerman comes loaded with mid-tempo, acoustic-based, singer-songwriter, and other hyphenated adjective tunes all written by Mr. Stevens. Even though these songs are late 60s acoustic jams, they don't sound like the overdone acoustic folk music that was coming out in an over-abundance around then. Cat brings a refreshing twist into his songwriting. He sounds like he's having fun and not taking himself too seriously, which I find appealing. It doesn't sound like there's an ego behind his music like a lot of his peers.

There isn't really much else I can say about this album. I can see why it made an impact on people's ears back in 1970, and why it still resonates today. You can tell there's a special fun little spark in Cat Stevens' songs that wasn't really in very many others around that era, when everyone was trying to out-cool each other.

Dad's Take:

If you were to hop in the Wayback Machine and set the dials for my early teens, you might see me with a pre-Walkman portable cassette player from Radio Shack, listening to a copy of Tea for the Tillerman copied from an LP I borrowed from my local library. This album got fairly heavy rotation from me in those days, one of the albums most likely to be played between Beach Boys binges.

With the popular "Hard-Headed Woman" and the mega-hit "Wild World," how could this album miss? Add to that everybody's favorite teen-angst tune, the moving-from-both-sides-of-the-conversation (as I know now) "Father and Son," and you have a sure classic.

The non-hits are no slouch either. Cat Stevens was a fine songwriter, and a welcome relief to the acid rock and crazy experimentation of the time. "Sad Lisa," "Where Do the Children Play," and several other songs are ambitious, smart, and loaded with meaning without sounding pretentious or trite. "Into White" is one of my favorite Cat Stevens album tracks. 

If the album has a fault, it's that there's a sameness to many of the songs. While the songs go well together, they go maybe a little too well together. Most of the songs are a similar tempo and cover similar lyrical territory. Cohesiveness is a good thing in an album, but it's nice sometimes to have some bigger differences across the record.

That's pretty minor, though, in the case of Tea for the Tillerman. The album is full of what Stevens does best, mid-tempo tunes full of more-or-less subtle spiritual themes. If there's a sameness, at least it's a pleasant formula.

I have no real excuse for not having listened to this for many years. It was nice to return to, and has aged well. Probably better than this listener has.