Cat Stevens has carved out a career in the folk scene over the course of the last five decades, delighting generations with his unique talent for combining wistful nostalgia with enchanting guitar riffs. His rich lyricisms have been a major influence on millions of us growing up throughout the years, and whether we found him in a record shop decades ago, or were spoon-fed “Father and Son” by James Gunn in Guardians of the Galaxy, I think it’s safe to say that his work has been a staple seasoning in the auditory diet of almost every music buff across the globe. As such, what better way to celebrate fifty years in the industry than to take a trip down memory lane to revisit some old friends and tell tales of times gone by?
And, indeed, in his latest studio album, The Laughing Apple, that is exactly what he has done. Stevens has quite literally pulled up a chair, got out his old song book and an acoustic guitar and decided to serenade us with a collection of new songs and a few retellings of old classics.
The title track, taken from his 1967 album, New Masters, is a peculiar little nursery rhyme about an apple picker discovering a surprising fruit along his journeys. It’s twee, but heck, it’s pleasant. And this is the general consensus for the record as a whole. Similarly, an odd little reworking of the traditional “Mary and the Little Lamb” is at once charming and bewildering.
Other songs from New Masters include “I’m So Sleepy” and “Northern Wind”, which, although it’s nice to hear new versions, lack the gravitas they had the first time round. The stand out new song, “You Can Do (Whatever)” harks back to his earlier works, and, amidst the pleasantries, manages to capture that essence of bittersweet hope we’ve seen in the likes of “Wild World” or “Father and Son”.
The Laughing Apple really has the feel of a grandfather sitting down to sing to his grandchildren; a comfy chair, an acoustic guitar, a warm fire, and half a dozen beaming little faces looking up to a wise and wizened patriarch. It’s soothing, it’s calming. It’s a lullaby, lovingly sung by a voice we’ve all grown up with. And perhaps, looking back, that’s exactly what Stevens has always been. He’s a musical mentor, gently advising and guiding. That’s The Laughing Apple.
Sure, it lacks the punch of Tea for the Tillerman. There’s nothing ground-breaking here. But this is a record for the fans, for the completists. It’s a man looking back on his life with the joyous melancholy we have come to expect form an old friend. If you’re unfamiliar with Steven’s work, get down to your local record shop and purchase yourself a dusty old copy of Tillerman or Teaser and the Firecat, but if you’re in the mood for a nice, warm, reassuring cup of tea, then gather the grandkids around and give this one a go.
The Laughing Apple is available now courtesy of Decca Records