The recent visit back to the seminal and peaking work of the artist known as Cat Stevens (now Yusuf) once again hammers home the fact of sheer and unfailing excellence Stevens exuded at the time.  This super deluxe set toasting Teaser and the Firecat does so across multiple discs and a 180-gram LP, with an anniversary remaster of the original album, and slews of demos, alternate takes, and live cuts, plus two books- one detailing the record; the other, an illustrated companion.  As with previous anniversary nods, this one encircles the album with enlightening extras, while lifting the original into new light.

Really, as a total piece, the extras and the original, sonically polished, enlighten the same conclusion: that Cat Stevens was having moment after moment of artistic triumph.  His voice, literal and figurative, was as confident and complex as ever it would be, channeling his poetic verse through arrangements and instrumentation so economical that it was at once completely exposed and thoroughly commanding.  Stevens was whole as a writer and performer, and he seemed to know it.

The live cuts, in particular, draw from Teaser tracks, and previous gold mines such as Mona Bone Jakon and Tea for the Tillerman, exhibiting incredible repeatable form in richness and emotion.  There is also a restrained spirituality that threads through the repertoire, connecting the three albums in performance with a shared sense of purpose, lighted by Stevens’ unassuming yet direct phrasing, plays on melody, and intuitive vocal balance.  It’s almost always, in its own way, meditative regardless of the surface tone or subject- happy or melancholy- guiding the listener to another, separate place of contemplation.

While the previous 50th cheering Stevens’ Tillerman output did its best to contemporize that milestone alongside itself, the Teaser set does the opposite: it allows the original and the live performances surrounding it to be the focal points.  With a voice so true, so vulnerable, Stevens’ time in 1971 was like no other in his storied career.  And this is the set that proves it.