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Music Review: Cat Stevens – Tea For The Tillerman (Limited Edition SACD)

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What a treat it is to listen to Cat Stevens again. I’m sorry, but his departure from music is missed by a lot of us. This is not the place to discuss his change in identity to Yusuf Islam – because it is irrelevant here. But the new SACD release of his classic Tea For The Tillerman was something I found irresistible, for a couple of reasons. Number one was the fact that I just happen to love this album. Number two may seem a bit odd, but it is nontheless true. After being shocked at hearing just how incredible the SACD version of Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here sounded – I honestly wondered how this process could improve such a delicate, acoustic recording as Tea For The Tillerman.

The answer is that it feels like you are right in the studio with him. Most Stevens’ fans consider this to be his finest album – I know I certainly do. Tillerman contains the hit single “Wild World” but there are many who would argue that there are even better tracks contained on this 11-song collection. The opening song “Where Do The Children Play?” is one. “Hard Headed Woman” did receive quite a bit of airplay back in the seventies. Try “Miles From Nowhere,” and “Father And Son” for a couple more fantastic tunes.

My curiosity was what more the SACD format could add to an acoustic recording like this. It was surprising. With an album like Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, one could pretty well figure out that the various sound effects they used would benefit from the process. Yet with such a straightforward acoustic recording as Tillerman, I really wondered what could be added.

The re-mastered edition of Miles Davis’ classic Kind Of Blue was the template for me. I had come to know the original LP pressing of that album so well by the time it came out on CD, I was very excited to hear it in a re-mastered context. Originally, they did nothing but transfer the LP to CD. What a disappointment. Then somebody got a clue, and actually went back to the masters and pulled out all of that awful tape hiss that had been there from the beginning. As previously mentioned in this review, it was like you were actually in the studio with the sextet while they were recording.

The SACD release of Tea For The Tillerman has very much the same effect. In 1970, when the album was recorded – recording technology had advanced quite a ways since 1959. Then again, only 11 years had passed, and going back to the original tapes and using 2011 technology has made quite a difference. I am not really good at summing up the reasons for this, so will defer to the quote the SACD people’s use as the official way of explaining why this format is so superior:

“The SACD layer of hybrid SACDs offers much higher fidelity than regular compact discs, containing up to four times the musical information. Hybrid SACDs are designed for CD-quality playback on conventional systems, including home and car stereos, portable CD players, computer CD- and DVD-ROM drives, and DVD players.”

Now I have to say that my system is not any sort of super-audiophile set-up in any way, yet the SACD edition of Tea For The Tillerman has never sounded better to these ears. I am the first to sneer at audiophile hype. Yet this SACD Haromonia Mundi is indeed worthwhile. If you love this record as much as I do, then you will notice the difference right off.

I’ll sign off by saying that this is the definitive version of Tea For The Tillerman. And honest to (name your deity), I really miss the artist who once called himself Cat Stevens.

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About Greg Barbrick

  • Greg Barbrick

    Thanks Steve – Again, not being a real audiophile guy, I can still genuinely hear the difference in quality, and I think for fans is is something of a revelation. Good to know about the upcoming material as well.

    Thanks — Greg

  • Steve Cooney

    There are two more Cat Stevens SACDs on their way from Acoustic Sounds. These Sterling Sound transfers are not however as good as those done by Acoustech in the Blue Note, Impulse series. In my view this album is mastered too loud especially the middle tracks. Still as you say it is incredible what can be sucked off those old analog tapes using modern digital (preferably DSD rather than PCM using the Grimm converter) converters and tricked out souped up tape decks. There are hordes of such stereo and quad reissues on SACD for popular music, jazz and classical fans.