Yusuf, formerly Cat Stevens, returns after a five-year recording absence with a ruminative effort that leans hard on the blues as he continues his career-long quest to find clarity and transcendence in life’s small moments. The mix of shrewd, humane originals and relevant covers reflects on the power of memory and searches for meaning in everyday struggles. Yusuf’s voice, burnished and bearing the weight of his 66 years, brings gravitas to the bruised blues of “Big Boss Man” and Procol Harem’s “The Devil Came From Kansas.” When he knowingly sings on the latter, “there’s a dark cloud just above us, don’t tell me ’cause I know” it aptly speaks to our troubled era. The singer-songwriter co-produces with Rick Rubin accentuating immediacy and intimacy. The originals, especially a poppy, introspective “Cat & the Dog Trap” and trenchant “Gold Digger,” are among his finest since resurfacing in 2006. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “Gold Digger”.