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CD Reviews: Review of License to Chill by Jimmy Buffet
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Click here to buy yourself a copy from Amazon.com Jimmy Buffet: License to Chill (2004)

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The war in Iraq forges on. John Kerry headlines the Democratic National Convention in Boston. Martha Stewart gets five months in prison. Stop the presses…Jimmy Buffett has a #1 record!

That’s right. For the first time in his remarkably popular 30-plus year career, the great Jimmy Buffett has landed his first Billboard #1. With an all-star guest list, a veritable who’s who of CMT hit makers, and near perfect timing on today’s country music scene, License to Chill will no doubt become Buffett’s best-selling album to date. The collection of mostly cover tunes (just three Buffett originals) is probably his best studio record since 1994’s Fruitcakes.

To the casual ear, Jimmy Buffett hasn’t traditionally been categorized as country music. But the truth is he began his impeccable career in 1970 on the streets and in the honky tonks of Nashville. Over time, his signature sound ventured from twang to calypso, he hocked his cowboy hat for a Hawaiian shirt and flip-flops, and traded in that rusted pickup truck for a yacht in Key West. The real reason Buffett never made it in Nashville is that Johnny Cash and David Allan Coe were succeeding there with songs about murder and prison. Meanwhile, Jimmy was building a grass (skirts) roots movement in middle America with songs about boat drinks, pink crustaceans and his dog Spooner.

These days, however, everyone wants to be like their heroes. In country music that means being like Jimmy! Alan Jackson hit pay dirt last year when he teamed with Buffett on “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere,” his fun-loving ode to all day drinking. It quickly became the breakout hit of the year for the genre. Kenny Chesney is as big as it gets in country music right now and his videos and concerts are blatant takes from Buffett’s playbook. So it makes sense that these are two of many artists gathered here to issue Sir Jimmy his License to Chill. Jackson shines on “Boats to Build,” a mellow island ballad that would fit on either his or Buffett’s album. The groovy title track features Chesney’s good-time-at-all-cost approach with corniness to spare (“Let the rat race run, roll around in the sun until trouble turns funny”).

The ultimate tip of the ten-gallon hat comes on Hank Williams’ vintage “Hey Good Lookin’,” the first single and video, where Chesney and AJ join in with Clint Black, George Strait and Toby Keith for the mother of all collaborations. The Team Buffett originals, however, hold their own and then some. Longtime pen pal Mac McAnally scripted the lovely “Coast of Carolina,” one of the album’s highlights. “Conky Tonkin’” (the original working title of this album) will be an instant Buffett classic and should work wonders on the flock of Parrotheads in the live venues this summer. But it’s the quirky “Coastal Confessions” that best displays the sheer beauty of Jimmy Buffett. “It’s been 42 years since my last confession. Well, Father, do you have the rest of the week?”

On the live album from 15 years ago, Feeding Frenzy, Buffett introduced “Come Monday” by bragging that he’d never had a hit record, but didn’t need one so long as he had fans like Parrotheads. “You’re reward enough!” he declared. Now that everything has come full circle in his extensive career, and the timing couldn’t be better with regard to what’s being manufactured in Nashville, the emperor of the Parrothead nation might have to rethink his place in life. Or not.

~Red Rocker 


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