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Jimmy Buffett lives on the "Flip Side" with first new album in seven years
A summer without Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band on stage may be a season in hell for any self-respecting Parrothead.
But the mayor of Margaritaville is not leaving his flock unserved.
Buffett -- himself quarantined with most of his family in Malibu right now -- has just released "Life on the Flip Side," his first new album in seven years. He full intended the 14-song set, recorded mostly in Florida last year with producers and Coral Reefer mainstays Michael Utley and Mac McAnally, to be the centerpiece for his annual run of summer concerts. The novel coronavirus pandemic had other plans, of course, and Buffett, 73, is finding a bit of silver lining in the situation.
"I have, for a good number of years -- maybe since back when I was 60 or so -- thought, 'Y'know, I might want to take a summer off and not go out for a summer and do something with my kids or write or just travel," says by phone after an early afternoon surf. "I've played every summer, I think, for 44 years. So I've been practicing for a long time to take a year off, and with the world kind of turning upside down, this is it."
Buffett was actually headed to St. Bart's for the boat racing season in mid-March when things began to shut down. "I was literally 10 minutes from firing up the plane," he recalls with a laugh. "The next thing I knew I had to pick my son up from tennis instructors school in Florida and fly him back here (to Malibu), so I've been here ever since."
And Buffett is making the most the enforced spell in dry-dock.
"Our silver lining in this dark cloud is I don't think I would've ever spent this much time with my grown kids, 'cause everybody's got their lives now," he acknowledges. "I think that's a treasure. A lot of people are spending more time with their kids than they ever thought they would 'cause everybody's huddled up, and I think that's a positive thing."
New music is a plus, too, even though the album was recorded and planned well before the pandemic hit. A seven-year break between releases was not planned, he says; It was just a matter of circumstance and other projects, most notably the stage musical "Escape to Margaritaville," which opened in San Diego during May of 2017, hit Broadway during the spring of 2018 and became a touring production last fall -- also forced off the road now, of course.
"That kept a lot of the writing time and energy going," Buffett explains. "And then when I thought about doing an album you think would you really do an album anymore, with the way things are going, or would you just put a couple songs out? But in the end we are just too old school and we just wanted to do it the old way and go in and make a record in the studio."
His intention for "Life on the Flip Side" was not altogether different than most of the others in his 50-year catalog -- whose enduring tropical party hits include "Margaritaville," "Cheeseburger in Paradise," "Fins," "Volcano," "One Particular Harbor" and "Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes." "We're not out there trying to make any mark these days; That's beyond any interest to me," Buffett says. "I thought it would be something people could add to their collection.
"But I wanted to do something that people who have been with us for a long time, and the new fans and younger fans we're picking up, that they would like as well as the older ones. We wanted to make an album that sounded cohesive, like it had a theme to it, like chapters in a book. When you listen to this thing in sequence, I think it kinda helps people out."
"Life on the Flip Side" has plenty of Buffett's seafaring spirit on tracks such as "Down at the Lah De Dah" (one of several contributions from Irish singer-songwriter Paul Brady), "Cussin' Island," "Hey, That's My Wave" and "Half Drunk." But there's a pirate-looks-at-more-than-40 poignancy to be found as well in "Who Gets to Live Like This," "Oceans of Time," "The World is What You Make It" and "Live, Like It's Your Last Day."
The album-closing "Book on the Shelf" -- written by Utley's son and McAnally's daughter -- provides a defiant promise that Buffett will keep scribblin' on pages not jumpin' off stages/Not ready to put the book on the shelf."
Buffett notes that veteran rock executive Chris Blackwell told him that the album "is a little different. There's a bit of sharpness to this one." Also weighing in was Paul McCartney, a friend who Buffett and his wife Jane have spent time with on St. Bart's and elsewhere.
"You get Paul McCartney talking to you about what you ought to do on an album, and you listen," Buffett says with a laugh. "I played him some stuff and he gave me some feedback. He said, 'Let it breathe a little more, just kind of let it go along and make it light.' It was good feedback -- and then you go outside and go, 'F***! That's Paul McCartney!' You can't get over that."
With touring sidelined Buffett is doing his best to stay busy and keep the Parrotheads fed. He's held a few Zoom chats with fans, broadcast vintage concerts on Margaritaville.tv and has done weekly performances for first responders. He's taking part in the Golden Hour Festival on Friday, May 29, on Kygo's social media and YouTube, and Buffett envisions his own virtual concert with the Coral Reefers at some point.
"This will all calm eventually," he predicts. "I'd like a fresh new start in everything by next year -- we go back to work, this thing'll be done and we'll get rid of these foolish people who are making policies and stuff. That'd be the best end result."
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