Updated: August 26, 2013 10:42PM
Jimmy Buffett’s “Songs from St. Somewhere” (Mailboat Records) contains a boatful of tunes about escapism, which is what Jimmy Buffett does the best.
There are 15 songs and a bonus track on Buffett’s first studio album in four years, but the best music on “Songs from St. Somewhere” come from somebody else.
The album’s loosely defined concept is the lost island of St. Somewhere, a phrase coined in the late 1970s by colorful Boston Bruins center Derek Sanderson. The album’s most brilliant performance comes in Buffett’s cover of the Jesse Winchester lost-at-sea love ballad “I Wave Bye-Bye.” Allen Toussaint covered “I Wave Bye-Bye” on last year’s Winchester tribute album “Quiet About It” that Buffett assembled (also featuring James Tayor, Rosanne Cash and others) and released on Mailboat . The Louisiana-born singer-songwriter was fighting esophageal cancer. Buffett’s sparse and sincere version holds up well against Winchester and Toussaint.
Django Walker, the son of cosmic cowboy Jerry Jeff Walker, co-wrote “Somethin’ About a Boat,” framed by easygoing John Prine rhythms, and the record’s greatest surprise is the tender “Oldest Surfer on the Beach,” written not by Buffett but by Mark Knopfler, who also plays guitar on the track. Buffett is in good form with the coastal Colombian cumbia-driven “I Want To Go Back to Cartagena” which features Colombian singer Fanny Lu. Emilio Estefan produced the Spanish bonus track of “Cartagena.”
The bad news is when Buffett tries to dip his toes into the same country-music waters that delivered crossover success with the Alan Jackson collaboration “It’s 5 O’Clock Somewhere.” This time redneck Toby Keith gets the call for “Too Drunk to Karaoke,” anchored by crunchy and cloying Bachman-Turner-Overdrive guitar riffs. You’d have to be pretty drunk to enjoy this song, co-written by Buffett, Mac McAnnaly, Shawn Camp and my Nashville bud Pat McLaughlin.
Buffett’s other songs are so topical and novella-driven they create a narrow scope: the rockabilly-tinged “The Rocket That Grandpa Rode” closes out with tributes to Neil Armstrong, Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock, and on the folk-rock “I’m No Russian,” Buffett goes to bat for the persecuted band Pussy Riot in between lyrics like “I’m no Russian/not even Prussian/Some say I’m nervy/Hell I’m from Jersey.....”
The musical tide can be high during moments on St. Somewhere, but there needs to be more down-to-earth sentiment in the style of Jesse Winchester.
Simple can be beautiful.
Franz Ferdinand, “Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Action” (Domino)
As the Post-It note title suggests, Glasgow’s Franz Ferdinand is clear about returning to what it once did best: stylish and crisp guitar-pop presented with a wink. The band had strayed into more elaborate dance music on its last album, but on this one, the confectionary of songs like “Evil Eye” and “Right Action” is once again presents a singular sound of less equals more.
Glen Campbell, “See You There”
The ailing singer’s pitch-perfect vocals were recorded during his last (and final) studio session; musical arrangements were added later. Campbell’s greatest hits are stripped bare and reinterpreted, resulting in a stunning, haunting farewell.
—Miriam Di Nunzio