The inimitable Jimmy Buffett released his 26th original album (not counting live and compilations) on October 6th. Now that I’ve had a few days to absorb and bask in the new songs, I offer my review and analysis of the album, which is eagerly awaiting by many. Overall, the album is very good and has some good and at least two “great” songs, but does not rank as highly as some of his more recent work. Nevertheless, it is a good album and I’m enjoying it.
Jimmy’s last album, “License to Chill” was his greatest commercial success to date from a career that has lasted over 35 years. That album featured several popular country artists and was recorded after Jimmy appeared with Alan Jackson in a song called “It’s Five O’Clock Somewhere” and attracted the attention of large, mainstream country music fans. Suddenly, Jimmy was cool.
1. Bama Breeze – This song appears to have been written specifically for Jimmy. It includes a reference to his sister, Lulu, who does in fact own a bar on the Alabama-Florida border called the Flora-Bama. A video was also made for this song. The ruins are of an actual bar in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi called the Firedog Saloon, which was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. This is the song Jimmy “had” to do following the success of “License to Chill.” It’s a pretty good tune.
2. Party at the End of the World – A tad goofy, it’s still a fun song. A characteristic Buffett song invoking images of global travel and introducing Latin rhythms and sounds. The music has more of a world music feel. It would be neat to create a dance re-mix of this song (if I could figure out exactly how to go about doing that).
3. Weather With You – Written by the Finn brothers and originally recorded by Crowded House, this is the remake of a song Buffett probably wishes he had written. It continues a familiar theme related to his recording of an old tune called “Everybody’s Talkin’.” That song contains a line known to resonate with Buffett that goes, “Going where the weather suits my clothes.” Most of us can relate to having a bad day, perhaps being in a rainy, cold climate and needing to get out. Now when you get to the sunny destination, you can bring the nice weather back home.
4. Everybody’s On the Phone – Buffett has tended to be a bit of a biographer of modern times, which comes through in this tune. Some of the lyrics are pretty clever and the music is kind of catchy, but it can’t quite escape its goofiness. The music makes you want to blast the volume, and you just can’t quite bring yourself to do it while singing these words. Buffett has done some songs that turned out this way in the past, like “Who’s The Blonde Stranger” and “Ragtop Day”.
5. Whoop De Doo – Written by Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits fame. Knopfler also plays guitar on this track. It’s a nice, smooth, romantic ballad. I like it, although I would like it more if the title and main line “Whoop De Doo” were something else – that slight goofiness has reared its ugly head again. This song features a surprisingly proficient vocal performance by Buffett (who is not known for his vocal talent).
6. Nothin’ But a Breeze – Penned by Jesse Winchester, who is responsible for some of my favorite Buffett songs, including ““Defying Gravity” and “Biloxi”. This song is classic Buffett, and very satisfying. Easily one of the best tunes on the album.
7. Cinco de Mayo in Memphis – One of the best examples of how Buffett blends the sounds, images and flavors of different cultures and regions as well as the way he weaves things from his youth into his songs. This fun song brings to mind the amusing thought of Mexican immigrants swimming across the Rio Grande to pay homage to Elvis Presley. Memorable lyrics include “soul sisters hugging senoritas” and the Jimmy babbling (as is typical) at the end, “me gusta las zapatas azul” and “excusa senora, donde esta Graceland?” Great tune.
8. Reggabilly Hill – Instant favorite. A reggae ballad retelling a Caribbean story of the people fighting government oppression and poverty. I would love to find more information about the songwriter, as I’m sure this is the recording of a song that already exists. There is an indication it may have been recorded by a group called Blue Alleluia, but I can’t find anything on the internet about them. I love singing the chorus on this one.
9. Elvis Presley Blues – I guess this is a song Buffett likes and wanted to record. Continues the theme begun with Cinco de Mayo in Memphis. I’m not an Elvis fan, but I do like this tune, particularly the prominent rockabilly bass line and the piano, which reminds me of some of my favorites from Buffett’s early days on “Living & Dying in 3/4 Time”. Jimmy didn’t write this and, as I said I’m not an Elvis fan, but his contributions to modern music are undeniable. I like the line about “his soul at stake” since the holy rollers at the time told Elvis (and his fans) that he would burn in hell for his un-Christian ways (e.g. rock ‘n roll is the devil’s music and shaking his hips). I like this one, too.
10. Hula Girl At Heart – I’ve been teasing James that this song is about him. It’s a nice, easy song with a bit of a Hawaiian feel (surprise!) but a bit boring to me. Not a bad song, but I tend to skip it when listening to the album.
11. Wheel Inside the Wheel – Instant classic. I love this song, even though it’s one of the darkest songs Buffett has ever done. We’re back in New Orleans again, with more images of frivolity and hedonism, weaved together with an overall theme of immortality. This is a tough rock n’ roll song that does make you crank the volume and sing at the top of your lungs. Especially as you head down to the French Quarter for a bit of partying. The writer of the song and the original recording artist, Louisiana native and poet Mary Gauthier gets credit for the imagery and feel of the song, but Jimmy and his band turned this into a straight-ahead rocker that’s got real staying power.
13. Breathe In, Breathe Out, Move On – Perhaps my favorite of this album. This song was co-written with Matt Betton, former drummer for the Coral Reefer Band and is about the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Because Jimmy is from the Gulf Coast and has a special place in his heart for that region, this soulful song is special, too. Great music, great words, great feelings.
14. Duke’s On Sunday – Song written by a Hawaiian artist, the music has a heavy jazz influence. It’s a slow, soft and easy song. Not one of my favorites, but a good one to end the album with. Good background music for dinner or conversation.
15. Here We Are – This song is not actually on the audio track, but is a video included on the disc. The video feature footage from concerts, mostly of the antics of fans engaging in their parking lot pre-show partying. The song is a nostalgic look at the relationship Jimmy has had with his fans over the course of his career. Without people showing up to his shows, especially in the early days, Jimmy never would have made it. His laid-back, carefree persona has become something a bit larger than himself and he has his fans to thank for that. The video closes with a visual reminder to his friends to always keep your “fins up”.
Some of the more astute afficianados may note, either by listening or reading the liner notes, that estranged harmonica player and original Coral Reefer “Fingers” Taylor has made a return. Fingers left the band about 10 years ago following a disagreement over health insurance (which the band members don’t receive). Good to have him back.
Very good album overall, not disappointing at all, but not a grand slam either.