Cat Stevens’ personal journey is an unusually interesting one. After starting as a precocious pop star in the late ‘60s, he evolved into a more thoughtful folk-rock troubadour in the early ‘70s, before embracing Islam and renouncing his career. The Very Best of Cat Stevens lays out the essential highpoints of his most productive years. Listened to in sequence, these songs become diary entries — the earnest young balladeer captured in “The First Cut is the Deepest” soon gives way to the ruminative poet of “Where Do the Children Play?” and “Father and Son.” Stevens’ trademark purrs and growls lend a rough edge to plaintive tunes like “Wild World” and underscore the rock bite of “Can’t Keep It In.” Songs like “Moonshadow” and “The Wind” conjure up fog-shrouded English landscapes with their delicate imagery and acoustic-oriented arrangements. Whether he’s calling for universal brotherhood (“Peace Train”) or seeking the proper mate (“Hard Headed Woman”), Stevens comes across as both ethereal and earthy. Later tracks like “Majik of Majiks” and “(Remember the Days of the) Old Schoolyard” suffer some by comparison but overall this album is a compelling chronicle of Stevens’ quest for artistic expression and spiritual fulfillment.