Cat Stevens, now known as Yusuf Islam, back with album, rare North America tour

The former Cat Stevens is back with an R&B-influenced album and will tour North America for the first time in more than 35 years, his label said on Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP 
The former Cat Stevens is back with an R&B-influenced album and will tour North America for the first time in more than 35 years, his label said on Monday. -- PHOTO: AFP 

NEW YORK (AFP) - The former Cat Stevens is back with an R&B-influenced album and will tour North America for the first time in more than 35 years, his label said on Monday.

Cat Stevens - who changed his name to Yusuf Islam after becoming a Muslim in 1977 - wrote his own blues songs and covered classics for the album "Tell 'Em I'm Gone," to be released on October 27.

The British singer, best known for his folk and pop, released a first track from the album, a largely faithful-to-the-original version of Edgar Winter's 1971 song "Dying to Live".

Yusuf, 66, said in a statement that he discovered as part of his "50-year musical and spiritual exploration" that he had an "R&B alter-self waiting to be let free".

"What's powerful and profound, to me, is the overall message which emerged, lyrically," Yusuf said.

"It suddenly stared me in the face: the innate struggle for freedom! Isn't that what most human beings dream of? Music and the blues particularly was a means of escape for many chained to the destiny of the rich and powerful," he said in a statement released by Legacy Recordings.

Yusuf announced six concerts in North America starting on December 1 in Toronto and ending December 14 in Los Angeles.

Cat Stevens last performed in North America in 1976 when the singer of hits such as "Oh Very Young" and "Moonshadow" and "Morning Has Broken" was at the height of his fame.

Yusuf quit touring after his conversion to Islam, playing limited performances - mostly tied to his faith - until his 2006 comeback album "An Other Cup."

Three years later, he played small shows in New York in 2006 and Los Angeles, but a North America tour planned after the 2009 performance was cancelled after what were described as work visa problems.

Yusuf was refused entry to the United States in 2004 after his name appeared on a no-fly list. The singer blamed mistaken identification, with his name resembling someone else's. He won libel suits against two British newspapers that had claimed he supported terrorism.

Art Garfunkel, of Simon and Garfunkel fame, inducted Yusuf into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in Cleveland, Ohio, in 2014 for his work as Cat Stevens. At the induction ceremony in New York, Yusuf performed his hits Father and Son and Wild World and concluded with a rousing version of Peace Train, on which he was accompanied, notably, by a Christian gospel choir.