Yusuf / Cat Stevens will release his first studio album in five years on 27 October 2014. The follow-up to 2009's Roadsinger, which is dubbed Tell 'Em I'm Gone, comes co-produced by Rick Rubin and includes collaborations with Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy), Chavez frontman (and frequent Oldham collaborator) Matt Sweeney, Tinariwen, and more.
Mixed with help from founding Yardbirds member Paul Samwell-Smith, the upcoming LP nods to the R&B that Yusuf listened to while growing up (according to Rolling Stone) and spans ten songs, five of which are original compositions and five of which are covers. Yusuf has already shared one track from Tell 'Em I'm Gone — a piano-driven rendition of Edgar Winter's 1971 track Dying to Live — and now the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has let go of a second: a new version of The Devil Came From Kansas, a 1969 song by English band Procol Harum.
"Procol Harum was one of my favorite bands," Yusuf tells SPIN. "We kind of started out together in a way on this very exclusive label called Deram back in the '60s. My drummer Barry went to join them so he actually played [sic] on Whiter Shade of Pale, which I think is one of the best pop songs ever. They wrote some great songs and I wanted to sing something that respected their repertoire and I don't know why but it was something that happened in Kansas when I was traveling. This was kind of apt for me and it reflected some of my memories."
Oldham: How are you doing?
Yusuf: Really good. We've been just rehearing at the moment. I've got everything set up here, so I'm kind of running through, just me and a guitar, various guitars. You know, just me alone, and it's feeling pretty good, so I'm thinking the band's going to make it sound so much better. I want to thank you, Will, for everything you've done on the album. It sounds so lovely. It's so good.
Oldham: I've been listening to it non-stop all week since I got it, and yeah, it sounds really exciting. All right, I've got a really deep question for you: What is The Devil Came from Kansas even about?
Yusuf: You know what? I'm frightened to ask [Procol Harum's] Keith Reid, just in case it really disappoints me [see below]. But to me, I had a pretty bad trip in Kansas once, and I wrote a song about it called 18th Avenue (Kansas City Nightmare).
Oldham: Oh, I love that song.
Yusuf: There is something to do with a devilish night that I had out there. So that song, 18th Avenue, really does document very clearly what happened. I actually did run to the airport after coming off this terrible trip, and finally making it. And that was Gate 22 that I had to reach. So it's all kind of really quite documented in that song.
Oldham: That's great, because this week, in preparation for talking with you, I've been listening to the last few records, and just randomly pulled out [1972's] Catch Bull at Four as the one old record that I was listening to, so it's nice to hear that there's this Kansas connection that draws a line between the two records.
Yusuf: Yeah. It's not as if I hold any grudge to the people of Kansas, but it just seems to be a good place to talk badly about.
We drew Keith Reid's attention to the interview above, adding, "I don't know if you feel like offering some kind of answer [to Cat Stevens] through the pages of 'Beyond the Pale', but we'll be happy to publish it if you do." Here's KR's response (16 October 2014):
Thanks for this.
I'd like to say, what an honour for such a terrific singer-songwriter as Yusuf / Cat Stevens to like this song well enough to record it. I'm totally delighted.