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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Born-Again Buffet With A New Tour And A New Album, Jimmy Buffet Returns To His Tried-And-True Style

Steve Morse The Boston Globe

Rock ‘n’ roll court jester Jimmy Buffett had a rude awakening when his plane failed on takeoff last summer, forcing him to crash in the seas off Nantucket Island. The near-tragedy made headlines around the country.

These days, Buffett is back to his jovial self with a new tour and a new album, “Barometer Soup” (No. 6 on this week’s Billboard album chart), yet it contains a couple of deep-meaning songs that suggest he’s truly glad to be alive.

“I’m still flying, but I have a safer plane now,” says Buffett. “For a while I got introspective about it, but you’ve got to get back up. I called a therapist I’d seen off and on in California to tell him about it - and to say I was having flashbacks - but the week before, the therapist had also ditched his plane. Boy, did we have one heck of a therapy session!”

Buffett is back to his eternal beach-boy form on “Barometer Soup” - a scintillating collection of hooky pop-rock, swing and calypso - but there are hints that he’s become a beach boy with more purpose.

“Once you’ve had a near-death experience, it does affect you,” says Buffett. “I remember this one. I had another near-death experience when I was 19 and was at the bottom of the ocean, but I was too drunk to care about it.”

The greatest difference, Buffett says recently from his Long Island home, is that he’s learned to spend more time with his three children, ages 16, 3 and 1. This deeper appreciation of life is evident on the new songs “Barefoot Children” (“barefoot children in the rain … no need to explain”) and “Jimmy Dreams,” which states that “he’s a child to the end,” then concludes: “Count all your blessings, remember your dreams.”

As if to count his own blessings, Buffett, now 48, returned last winter to his old digs in Key West, Fla., to record the album. “It was nice to go back to Key West and make a record. As much as Key West has changed, there’s still a lot of personal history there for me. It was nice to be back in my studio. We had it completely redone.

“I like this (new) record. We did it in January and February, but I still listen to it,” says Buffett, who just finished a sailing vacation around Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. “Someone described it as ‘a new old Jimmy Buffett’ record, and I like that.”

The new disc is Buffett’s second in two years (after going six years without releasing an album of original songs). It has a deeper feel than last year’s “Fruitcakes,” but it still brims with the comic relief of the zany “Bank of Bad Habits,” “Ballad of Skip Wiley” (with the verse, “You can rag on the Miami Dolphins, but you can’t steal the Orange Bowl queen”) and the title track, “Barometer Soup,” where Buffett sings in his casual, post-grad-fromparadise style, “Come on, let’s have some fun, seems our work is done.”

“My personal favorite is the song ‘Diamond at the Ritz.’ It’s based on an F. Scott Fitzerald story,” Buffett says. The reggae-flavored song, which features the harmonica of longtime backup musician Fingers Taylor, states: “Who’s gonna save you when you’re a slave to a diamond?”

Buffett’s original tunes stand out, but so does one special cover song. Last year’s “Fruitcakes” disc had a cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Uncle John’s Band” (suggesting that Deadheads and Buffett’s own audience of “Parrotheads” overlapped, which was his contention all along). The new album has a cover of James Taylor’s “Mexico.” Explains Buffett: “I’ve always loved that song … and it’s a nice way to pay homage to your friends. I think the audience really likes it, too.

“I enjoy some cover songs,” he adds, noting that the group also still performs Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” in concert. “It’s a privilege for me to do that song. I think I do it more than Van does these days.”

The new album is the 30th in Buffett’s career, which dates back to the mid-‘70s, when the Mobile, Ala., native scored carefree, hedonistic Top 40 hits such as “Margaritaville,” “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise.”

Oddly enough, he’s only had one Top 10 hit in his career (“Margaritaville” went to No. 8), yet he’s become a perennial sensation of the summer shed circuit. “At this point in my career, I’m not making records to get on the radio. I get played on the radio sometimes, but I don’t check much.”

Buffett is focused much more on how to please his Parrothead audience - that strange blend of Hawaiian-shirted crazies who go to great sartorial lengths to please their idol. “I’m just trying to make an album that Parrotheads can add to their collection,” he says of the disc.

Buffett has worked hard in the studio these last couple of years, but he’s also worked to keep concerts with his Coral Reefer Band as fresh as possible. He even checks his computer e-mail to see what Parrotheads might be thinking. “Through e-mail and other sources, I want to keep on top of what people want in the show. Like it or not, I’ve got to do the expected songs like ‘Margaritaville’ and ‘Cheeseburgers.’ But I don’t want to just do a greatest-hits show every year.”

This summer’s concept involves “Domino College,” a fictitious school that he and cowriter Dan Fogelberg described in a song by the same name that appeared on Buffett’s boxed set two years ago. “It’s a Caribbean summer school, Jimmy Buffett-style,” he says with a chuckle.

Buffett is also continually trying to find new video images to present during his shows. These are partly assembled by going into the parking lots before shows to videotape Parrotheads and their antics.

“Sometimes I go out on a golf cart to look around. We see stuff you wouldn’t believe. I love the Mercedes we saw with a shark’s tail on it. That’s still on the video roll. That’s a keeper.”

This summer, Buffett is trying to make the show more interactive. “We actually do a Coral Reefer ‘Cheeseburgers’ contest. If you play the song well enough, you get to go on stage and play with the Coral Reefer Band. Some people we reach through e-mail say they’re practicing hard for it.”

Throwing in such new wrinkles is necessary for survival, Buffett believes.

“We could go out on tour and not do a damned thing differently, but I don’t think we’d last very long that way.”