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50 Years Later, Yusuf/Cat Stevens Reworks A Lost Song

From 1978 to 2006, Cat Stevens was absent from the secular music world, a long-but-temporary retirement motivated by his conversion to Islam. In the decade since his return, he's sounded musically reinvigorated in songs that only magnify the philosophical reflection that's marked his music since the beginning.

Stevens, who's long since changed his name to Yusuf Islam but now uses both names interchangeably, has spent the last decade performing both old and new material. When he played the Tiny Desk back in 2014, he seamlessly alternated fresh compositions with "The First Cut Is the Deepest" and "Father and Son," so it's no surprise that his next album combines songs of his past and present.

The Laughing Apple, out in September, comes out roughly 50 years after Stevens' first album. So it makes sense that its songs hearken back to his beginnings, in this case by mixing lushly arranged reworkings of early songs — including several that first appeared on 1967's New Masters — with fresh originals. The characteristically lovely "Mary and the Little Lamb" effectively checks both boxes: It's a gentle but brightly rendered late-'60s composition with a new verse. The song had only ever existed as a demo and never made it onto a Cat Stevens/Yusuf Islam album, so it's new to the rest of us.

The Laughing Apple comes out Sept. 15 via Cat-O-Log/Decca.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)