I have a new goal in life, thanks to Jimmy Buffett: I want to spend so much time drifting from one island paradise to another that I get completely careless about which one I’m actually on. “Where are you?” folks back home will ask when I take their calls. “Ahh, Saint somewhere-or-other,” I’ll reply, fiddling with the umbrella in my cocktail.
The tropical troubadour’s brand-new album is “Songs From St. Somewhere,” and if that sounds a bit jaded, the Gulf Coast native takes pains in his liner notes to explain otherwise. He gives credit to St. Barthelemy in the French West Indies as one of the sites where recording took place. And he explains that St. Somewhere is more a state of mind. “St. Somewhere is not a place you can get to by consulting your GPS or going on Google Earth … Music is the compass that charts your course to this imaginary rock,” he writes.
Still, when you can’t even come up with a real fictional name for your imaginary rock, you’re pretty mellow. And this is, even for Buffett, a relaxed album. His vocal approach is so easygoing that on some tracks it sounds more like spoken-word storytelling set to music than singing.
But he does invest himself in the stories, and they’re what stand out about this particular collection. A classic Cadillac and the circus performer who loved it? The ne’er do-well who steals a car from a Russian mobster? This is enjoyably weird stuff.
Buffett visits all his favorite ports of call, as he’s surely entitled to do at this point in his career. Want some jokey near-novelty songs? Here’s “Too Drunk to Karaoke,” with Toby Keith, and “Einstein Was a Surfer.”
Want to travel vicariously to some exotic locales? Cue up “Rue De La Guitare” or “I Want to Go Back to Cartagena.” Want some of those philosophical numbers where he arcs from his beach-bum image to metaphysical musings? Turn to “Somethin’ Bout a Boat” or “Tides” or “Colour of the Sun,” or check in with the “Oldest Surfer on the Beach.” (The last features guitar ace Mark Knopfler.)
In the middle of it all is “I’m No Russian,” an epic about a joyride in a borrowed Lamborghini. The real marvel isn’t that the references to drone warfare, the assassination of a Russian expatriate in England and the forcible suppression of a female Moscow punk band are all so completely facetious: it’s the song’s six-and-a-half minute runtime and Buffett’s funky willingness to delve deep into a shallow scenario.
A couple of notes on local flavor:
Firstly, Mobilian Will Kimbrough, who has worked with Buffett in the past, is featured as an “honorary Coral Reefer.” He’s credited as co-writer on “I Want to Go Back to Cartagena” and “The Rocket That Grandpa Rode,” and Buffett also includes a cover of his “Soulfully.”
Secondly, the rest of the world might miss this, but Mobile-area listeners won’t: In “Serpentine,” the pirate sings with considerable heart about the impact that Carnival season had on his formative years.
Beads and confetti were littering the air
When the Queen looked at me with her Ava Gardner stare
Though tomorrow would bring ashes and penance by the ton
Mardi Gras’s where I learned to have fun
There’s a flambeaux man with a gold earring
And the cold north wind smells like kerosene
I’m still in love with the Carnival Queen
Still want to wrap her in Serpentine
Like much of “Songs From St. Somewhere,” it’s on the mellow side. You couldn’t second-line to it. But I’ll bet you could slow-dance to it. And I’ll be that here in Mobile, at least, people will.
By Lawrence Specker | firstname.lastname@example.org