Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads

Jimmy Buffett

MCA Records, 1992

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Everybody in the world, I think, either has or secretly wishes they had a crazy uncle. You know, the kind of guy who would show up out of the blue, and, over a few stiff scotches, tell tall tales of his exploits in faraway places with strange-sounding names until the wee hours of the morning. And in the morning you'd wake up and he'd be gone, tails of his Hawaiian shirt flapping in the breeze somewhere down the highway as he careened along with the top down and the radio blaring.

I never had a crazy uncle. Luckily for people like me, though, we always have Jimmy Buffett to fall back on.

Buffett is what they used to call an entertainer. Not the best voice in the world, though certainly gifted with enough to carry a tune. Not the most skilled player in the world, though his music has usually been assembled with care and heart. But always, always what Buffett has brought to the table is a unique and thoroughly realized perspective -- a witty, rowdy, sentimental, occasionally philosophical and invariably sun-drenched view of a world that, in Buffett's ever-playful eyes, has its priorities all screwed up.

Buffet has issued so many albums over the years (27 or so as I'm writing this review) that it's hard to know where to start. Like most of the rest of the world, I'd heard "Margaritaville" a zillion times in the late 70s, but I didn't come around until a friend got me the junior version of this album, 1985's Songs You Know By Heart (a measly 12 songs). Once a little of Jimmy's tropical rhythms and devil-may-care attitude had seeped in, the choice was easy -- I jumped in with both feet and picked up the four-CD, 72-track box set Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads.

As the title suggests, the discs are divided up somewhat thematically. Thus you find the wonderful ode to Buffett's own sea-faring heritage "Son Of A Son Of A Sailor" and the classic aging wanderer's lament "A Pirate Looks At Forty" on "Boats." Buffett's powers of rhyme here are at his best -- a fact he revels in in the liner notes. Self-indulgent, yes, but hey, he IS pretty good at it, and many of his sea-faring songs are memorable both for their swagger and for their deeply affectionate take on life afloat.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Serious Buffett never gets wet-eyed for too long before the guy with the loud shirt and gut-busting smile saunters along, though, offering margaritas aplenty, a "Volcano"-sized reggae shuffle, or a bouncy sing-along "Cheeseburger In Paradise" ("I like mine with lettuce and tomatoes, etc." -- sing it loud, now, don't hold back).

One of the reasons this set is a good buy for either the beginning Parrothead or the 20-year vet, though, is that Buffett's hand-picked 72-song set list includes all the obligatory hits plus numerous great but semi-unknown album cuts and several unreleased tunes. Among my personal favorites: the raucous "The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful," a not-just-hilarious but somewhat inspirational tale of a stressed-out city guy who hops a plane to the islands and starts a new life among the palm trees; the sparkling "When The Coast Is Clear," an evocative ballad conveying the peace that descends over Buffett's home Gulf Coast region after the tourists head north; and Buffett's remarkable cover of Van Morrison's classic "Brown-Eyed Girl," whose Caribbean steel-drum arrangement is so infectiously melodic that - dare I say it? - it may top the original.

Best of all, there's precious little evidence on this collection of the self-satisfied/self-pitying rich man that Buffett has largely become in the latter, mogul-like stages of his multi-tracked career (musician, restauranteur, author, merchandiser). Instead, you get the sweeping but often touching romanticism of early Buffett ballads like "Come Monday" and "He Went To Paris," and the naughty court jester-ism of "Why Don't We Get Drunk" and the lost track "Elvis Imitators" (and damn if he doesn't do a good one...). The only real knock on it is that like its author, Boats, Beaches, Bars & Ballads is prone to excess, and therefore may be a little thick for the uninitiated (19 ballads on one disc?).

Finally, there's the 64-page Parrothead handbook, a compendium of everything Buffett - articles, interviews, a margarita recipe, a crossword puzzle (!) and Buffett's extensive, enlightening liner notes. There's a great story there about the last time Buffett ever pitched a song to a producer. After Buffett had finished playing "The Captain And The Kid," a moving, deeply personal portrait of his beloved grandfather, a producer said to the young songwriter, "This is a great song, but you have to change the ending. It's too sad for the old man to die." "I can't do that," responded Buffett, shocked. "Why?" asked the producer, equally taken aback. "Because he did," answered Buffett, and left.

Finally, there's "The Pascagoula Run," a track chronicling Buffett's teenaged adventures one wild weekend with his crazy Uncle Billy. Ever since then he's been doing everything he could to pass on what he learned. There are worse ways to earn a living.

Now pour yourself something cold and raise your glass to Uncle Jimmy -- daylight's wasting.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1998 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of MCA Records, and is used for informational purposes only.