Singer/Songwriters: The Formative Years

Teachers can change your life and never was that more true than with a Miss Wagner, my long ago English teacher who looked so fine in her mini-skirts and frosted hair. When the schoolboy jungle telegraph somehow sussed out the fact that her first name was Julie, a collective shiver ran through the male animals in the class. Lust, which we mistook for love, was in the air.

While the mass ogling was in full swing and the sickly sweet aroma of jittery, prepubescent testosterone hung heavy in the classroom, I was equally interested in Miss Wagner’s musical selections. Seems she was a bit of a hippy who partook of the wild weed and spun records. Lots of records. What really sealed my affections for her was when she brought in Tommy and later, Who’s Next. Like a lot of poetesses of her generation, oh yes, she was one of those as well, she loved Cat Stevens and so I was first introduced to his two year run of masterpieces that began with Tea For the Tillerman (1970) and ended the next year with Teaser and the Firecat (1971). Now the first installment of that duo has been reissued on LP in improved sound and an impressive high quality 45 RPM, 200 gram pressing by Chad Kassem and Analogue Productions. While the two CD 2008 Deluxe Editions from Universal Music, each with an extra disc of live and demo tracks, is the digital go-to set for these titles, this new LP of Tea is a doozy. I hesitate to use the term “last word” on anything, particularly records these days which can be remastered and even remixed (though very rarely), but this may well be the last LP pressing of this title that anyone will ever need. The dynamic scale, level of detail and the overall atmosphere of this pressing is superb. The warmth and suppleness of the sound is without equal. Yet another unqualified triumph from Kassem’s sonic wonderland out on the Great Plains!

The aesthetic question that hangs over these two records, both produced by Paul Samwell-Smith of the Yardbirds and recorded in London and Los Angeles, and both, I suspect, the product of one very productive burst of songwriting, is which of the two is the better overall collection? Which resonates longer? If they are both five star records, which they are, does one pull ahead by a nose? Cat, now Yusuf, has said this about them: “Like Yin and Yang: Teaser and The Firecat was the night, as…Tillerman was the day.” Miss Wagner memories aside, after several listens to each, the closing duo of “Moonshadow” and “Peace Train” on Teaser is hard to beat. “Bitterblue” rocks and “Morning Has Broken” (an old Gaelic tune turned Christian hymn turned pop hit thanks to Rick Wakemans piano part!) is gorgeous. On both, Stevens, who illustrated both covers, is in such fine voice. And his songwriting was on a level almost unseen since then. This potent pair of records gave new weight and meaning to the term singer/songwriter. Thanks Julie!

Allen Fant's picture

Sounds like you had an excellent teacher- RB.
Thanks! for sharing.

remlab's picture


gcvanwinkle's picture

choice: Tea for the Tillerman

reason: Sad Lisa

dalethorn's picture

The Tillerman album's songs are about a guy agonizing over his search for religious truth, and then he found a religion in real life to satisfy his search. Ho hum. The tunes - the instrumentation, the unique voice - all very enjoyable, but the lyrics ("they move so smooth but have no answers") are often embarrassing.

fork's picture

Sorry for repeating what I said about the 2112 reissue, but am I the only one who's noticed there's no correlation between higher vinyl weight and improved sound quality (certainly not the level professed by record companies or many reviewers). Granted it's difficult to compare apples to apples...reissue pressings have different mastering, pressing plants, vinyl formulation, master tape, EQ, etc.

I've weaned my record collection down to only those I find have music that absolutely captivates me and the cream of the crop with recording quality (if it's amazing music, but just above average recording, my shelf is too small for it to take up space). Probably 80% of this collection are 130g pressings and nothing about the sound of those makes me say, "wow, I wish this album had been pressed on a 200g blank". I'm not using a $100k vinyl setup, but it's a Lamm phono preamp, Triangle Art Sig. TT and Ortofon Cadenza Black (pretty advanced gear).

Yes, heavier vinyl is less likely to warp, but a slight warp has little effect on sound. As far as I can tell, if heavier vinyl affects sound quality it's very far down on the list of factors I should care about.

My audio club friends compared the last reissue of Tillerman to another copy, an original purchased at a garage sale. The original was apparently a fortunate mastering / pressing plant version, but nobody wanted to own the reissue after that evening.

I've encountered no shortage of uninspiring reissues with a big 180HQ sticker on the cover. In the past few years the titles I've seen that were handily beat by inexpensive originals include (Doors (self-titled), Steely Dan (multiple titles), Van Morrison (multiple titles), Dylan (multiple titles), Graceland, Tillerman, Holly Cole (7-disc Temptation, original not cheap, but reissue is crap)). I could go on. I'm tired of seeing these repeated reissues of titles, only to find the sound quality is inferior-to a $10 original pressing.