Album review: Cat Stevens – Tea for the Tillerman (QRP LP reissue)

Tea for the Tillerman

Many record collectors and audiophiles have fond memories of the classic Cat Stevens album, Tea For the Tillerman. Originally released in the fall of 1970, it included many of the artists best known songs – some of you may even remember them from the soundtrack to Harold and Maude. This record has recently been given the audiophile remastering treatment by Quality Record Productions in Salina, Kansas.

To gauge its merit, we compared the new QRP pressing to a number of existing versions: A pristine copy of the first issue Island Pink Label, a first issue tan-label A&M pressing, and both Mofi releases—the standard vinyl and the UHQR. While we feel that more treble extension and a smoother overall tonal balance grace the Pink Island LP, the QRP is definitely the one to beat in every other area.

This is a beautiful record to hear. Surfaces are CD-quiet. Music emerges from between your speakers in a lush, full-bodied way that will convince those with top systems that they are experiencing a live, intimate performance. Much like a Patricia Barber or Diana Krall record, it will make average systems sound much better than their owners might have thought possible. We’ll be hearing this one for years to come at various audiophile shows. Bottom line, if you love Tea For The Tillerman, this is the one you want.

I immediately notice that the QRP LP’s long instrument decay and tight, powerful bass offer more grip than my UHQR, with the A&M pressing more congested than either version. However, the QRP pressing boasts more inner detail, making it easier to follow the lines of both guitarists throughout and discern the interplay of the background vocal tracks. From my listening chair, it all sounds wonderful.

For those not following QRP’s development, Acoustic Sounds proprietor Kassem spent a king’s ransom to get the plant up and running, addressing many technical issues that always plague such ventures. Rumor has it that the first batch of Tea For The Tillerman LPs got scrapped because they weren’t up to Kassem’s high standards. That’s admirable. And consequently, this record stands as a benchmark for LP quality.

Collectors will appreciate the high quality of the album jacket, featuring heavy stock with a thick semi-gloss coating. A four-page foldout includes photos of the “absolute” original master tapes and a few good quotes from George Marino at Sterling Sound. He discusses the improvements in lathe technology since the first Cat Stevens records were cut at Sterling in the early 70s.

Our research indicates that a clean, early stamper Pink Island copy can easily set you back $200. So, $30 for a brand-new record is indeed a bargain. In the end, the sound quality on this record is some of the best I’ve heard. If all the LPs in my collection sounded this good, I’d never have bought a CD player. TONE tips its proverbial hat to the associates at QRP— they are masters of their craft.  -Jeff Dorgay


You can purchase the album here.

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