Born Steven Demetre Georgiou, Cat Stevens was one of the most popular recording artists of the 1970s. His string of hit singles included “Wild World,” “Moonshadow,” “Morning Has Broken,” and “Peace Train,” to mention a few. Anyone familiar with Cat Stevens of that era knows that he was an artist who was always searching, so it wasn’t all that surprising when he underwent a religious conversion to Islam, changed his name (yet again) to Yusuf, and went into retirement. Yusuf returned to the land of major labels with his 2006 album Another Cup, and followed it with 2009’s Roadslinger. On the bluesy effort, Tell ‘Em I’m Gone (Legacy), credited to Yusuf / Cat Stevens, the singer/songwriter darkens the sky with his cloudy cover of “You Are My Sunshine,” and sings the blues on “Editing Floor Blues,” “Big Boss Man,” “Gold Digger,” and the title tune. There are glimpses of beauty to be found on “Dying to Live” and “Doors.”
Like Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette, Candi Staton has enjoyed the fruits of being rediscovered by a younger generation of musicians, thereby gaining her a new audience. To be fair, gay men helped give Staton a career boost in the 1970s when her disco singles “Victim” and “Young Hearts Run Free” were spun regularly by DJs in gay clubs. There are no especially clubby cuts on Life Happens (Beracah / Fame), but there are heartfelt soul tunes delivered in Staton’s distinctive vocal style that are sure to appeal to the fans from all walks of her fan-base. Standout numbers include “Commitment,” “I Ain’t Easy to Love” (featuring John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, and Jason Isbell of Drive-By Truckers), the musical lesson of “She’s After Your Man,” “Treat Me Like A Secret,” “My Heart’s On Empty,” and the bonus track “Where I’m At.”
I met Woody Lissauer back in the early 90s at Sowebo. His long blond hair flaying in the wind, a pearly white smile, and charming stage presence combined with amazing musical abilities made him stand out in the crowd of performers for me that night. I knew he had real talent and I liked him. We were introduced and hit it off immediately. We hung out at his place after the festival, talked for hours, and he showed me all the various instruments he knew how to play. I was incredibly impressed.
Hot on the stylish heels of her stylish New Destination EP, queer singer/songwriter Rachael Sage has released the full-length album Blue Roses (MPress), a definite career-high. The new direction hinted at in the four songs on the EP is fully realized on Blue Roses’ 13 tracks. Sage wisely included a pair of songs from the EP, “Misery’s Grace” and the marvelous “Wax,” on the new disc. Longtime fans will be happy to hear that Sage hasn’t abandoned her trademark keyboard work or her distinctive vocal style or phrasing, as you can plainly hear on “Happiness (Maddie’s Song).” What is most evident here is a more mature songwriting style, as is evident on “English Tea,” “Barbed Wire,” “Newspaper,” and the trans tune “Used To Be My Girl” (which is reminiscent of Shawn Colvin). The cover of Neil Young’s “Helpless,” a duet with Judy Collins that closes the disc, is simply stunning.
One of Robin Williams’ last films before his untimely 2014 passing (let’s hope it’s better than The Angriest Man in Brooklyn), A Merry Friggin’ Christmas might be saved by the possibility of a shirtless Joel McHale. A Merry Friggin’ Christmas: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack (Lakeshore) has a few things going for it. It opens and closes with a pair of songs performed by Rufus Wainwright – “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and the original “Christmas is for Kids.” The Belle Brigade, featuring out singer Barbara Gruska, performs the original “Going Home for Christmas.” Nice Jewish boy Ben Kweller rocks the house with his rendition of “Here Comes Santa Claus” and draws on his Texas roots in the original “Try to Love (Joy to the World).” Other holiday highlights include “The Weather Outside” by Spence Shapeero, “Best Time of the Year” by Alex Rhodes and “More Than I Wished For” by FM Radio.
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