Jimmy Buffett Brings the Beach to Nashville

The Parrotheads are an extremely welcoming bunch, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band give an endlessly fun performance, and the overall experience must be seen to be believed.

Jimmy Buffett is a a country singer/songwriter from Pascagoula, Mississippi. He was one of the first artists mix reggae and other tropical elements with classic pop-country song structure, making him a pioneer of the island country sound later adopted by artists like Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown to name a few. His influence on recorded music is often underestimated, but it pales in comparison to his concerts. Buffet is undeniably a legend in the world of live performances. Incredibly, he’s toured every single year since 1976, racking up more than 40 separate tours and amassing an army of dedicated fans known as “Parrotheads.”

The experience of a Jimmy Buffett concert is something that simply must be seen in person. My first experience came last summer in Saint Louis on the “Son of a Son of a Sailor” tour. Buffett took the stage at eight and we arrived around noon to a full parking lot which had been transformed into a full fledged beach, complete with lawn chairs, campers, boats, swimming pools full of sand, and an uncountable number of blenders all hard at work whipping up margaritas. No matter where Buffett goes, he brings the beach with him, and last night in Nashville was no exceptions.

With no opening act, Jimmy took the stage a bit after eight and set to work on a show that lasted close to three hours. I’ve found myself impressed at both concerts by the fantastic pacing of the set list. With nearly 30 studio albums to his name, he has a bit of an advantage in this department, but a Buffett concert never seems to drag despite its length. He drops hits like “Volcano,” and “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” throughout, breaking up the monotony of lesser known tracks, and yet has plenty left in the tank for a strong close with iconic cuts like “Margaritaville,” and “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes.” 

Even on lesser known tracks, there’s plenty to appreciate. Despite his care-free style and sayings like “I always try to spend your money irresponsibly,” Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band that backs him are absolute professionals. This concert was especially fun because the majority of his instrumentalists are longtime Nashville players. I was particularly impressed by Peter Mayer who covered lead guitar duties and Doyle Grisham on pedal steel guitar. Both are Nashville legends in their own right and gave excellent performances throughout the night. Of course, Robert Greenidge’s steel pan drumming is also invaluable, as he is one of the top players in the world and his solo in the middle of the show was excellent.

All this being said, the highlight of the show is the man himself, Jimmy Buffett. From the opening moments of the show, the 72 year old icon is on fire, filled with enjoyable stories and bottomless energy. His voice has held up remarkably well over the 40+ years of touring, though few of the tracks are particularly taxing. Nevertheless, he’s an incredible frontman, and with the aide of longtime partner and country music legend, Mac McAnally, he brings quite the party to the stage and the three hours fly by quickly.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I did notice just a few shortcomings, mainly in the venue. The show was held at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, just a few steps from the massive crowd gathered for the final day of the NFL draft, and so there wasn’t the normal pre-show tailgating that Buffett is known for. Additionally, the crowd was much more subdued, and aside from the sea of Hawaiian style shirts, the costumes left quite a bit to be desired, though my group and I were proudly holding it down in light up shark fins, grass hula skirts, and coconut bras. The Saint Louis show certainly captured the atmosphere much better, but I still had a blast and felt that the performance itself was actually quite a bit better.

Ultimately, I can’t overstate how heavily I recommend that any serious music fan attend a Jimmy Buffett concert at least once. Even if you, personally, aren’t a fan of the music, there’s nothing like the traveling beach party that is one of his tours.

The Parrotheads are an extremely welcoming bunch, Jimmy Buffett and the Coral Reefer Band give an endlessly fun performance, and the overall experience must be seen to be believed.

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George Strait’s 30th Release is a Testament to Golden Age Nashville Music

Honky Tonk Time Machine is a strong release for fans of classic country which will please the audience it’s made for quite well, even if it doesn’t bring new fans in.

George Strait is a country music icon from Pearsall, Texas. He released 18 albums from the start of the 1980’s through the 1990’s, all of which went platinum. In total, Strait has released 23 platinum records, placing him third all time for the most gold and platinum releases, behind only Elvis and The Beatles. He also holds the title for the most number one singles of any artist in any genre. He’s largely seen as one of the most influential country artists of all time having toured consistently for multiple years and being named as “Artist of the Decade,” for his work in the 2000’s.

The album was recorded in Nashville, Tennessee, and Music City’s influence bleeds through every song, particularly in the tightness of the instrumentation. Paul Franklin, an absolute legend in country and outlaw music, helms the steel guitar which shines blindingly on “Some Nights,” but decorates virtually every cut perfectly. Bluegrass icon Stuart Duncan plays violin and mandolin as well, both of which are particularly noticeable on one of the album’s lead singles, “Codigo.” As is often the case with modern records from country icons, the instrumental personnel on Honky Tonk Time Machine is absolutely stacked.

Not to be outdone, however, George Strait gives quite a few impressive vocal performances himself. On “Sometimes Love,” for example, his tight runs and thick baritone timbre are pure country and represent a sound that Strait himself pioneered. He’s even more impressive on “Old Violin,” in which he sings with quite a bit of sincerity and vulnerability about coming to grips with his age and waning status within the industry. Ultimately, George’s voice still holds up to this day thanks to his soft touch and laid back style.

The strongest point to the record is fairly multifaceted, but can be generally summed up as great songwriting. Lyrically, it’s a bit of a mixed bag, but the shortcomings are mostly hidden by the fact that several of these tracks are just a blast to listen to. From the very funny concept of a song like “Two More Wishes,” to the Buffet-esque, island dwelling sound of “Blue Water,” and even the roaring blues riffs on the title track, the majority of this album is simply enjoyable.

On top of this, some of the slower, sappier songs dodge the common pitfalls of being boring or overly idealistic by leaning heavily into the very most classic cliche’s of the genre. “God And Country Music,” is heavily driven by twanging violins and an impassioned vocal performance while “The Weight of the Badge,” benefits quite a bit from a well played acoustic guitar. These tracks will likely turn off many outsiders and casual fans, but if you appreciate the works of country’s golden age, these are quite enjoyable.

Best of all, George and his team of cowriters are fantastically talented when it comes to writing hooks and choruses. The opener, “Every Little Honky Tonk Bar,” for example, will rattle around the minds of listeners for days after the first listen thanks to an extremely catchy chorus. The closer and strongest cut, “Sing One With Willie,” is hilarious and extremely listenable, brought together perfectly by the singable hook which is sung by both Strait and fellow country legend, Willie Nelson.

I do have a few gripes with the album. As I said, the lyricism leaves quite a bit to be desired on most of the tracklist. On top of this, George’s voice doesn’t sit all that well in the more bluegrass inspired tracks like “Codigo.” The worst offense however, comes in the production by longtime Nashville engineer, Chuck Ainlay, who can’t seem to keep his hands out of these tracks. Most of the mixing is relatively inoffensive but the vocal tuning makes the lead feel somewhat lifeless very often and several of the harmonies just don’t quite mesh. This can often be ignored, but tracks like “Take Me Away,” and “What Goes Up,” are nearly ruined by the production.

All told, George Strait’s 30th LP is a fun addition to his legendary catalog. It’s full of enjoyable callbacks to the sound of country’s golden age with a few interesting twists and it’s extremely well performed, despite several hiccups along the way.

Honky Tonk Time Machine is a strong release for fans of classic country which will please the audience it’s made for quite well, even if it doesn’t bring new fans in.

5/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Eric Church Turns in Imperfect but Listenable LP

Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

     Eric Church is a country/americana artist from Nashville, TN. He debuted in the late 2000’s with two modestly successful releases on Capitol Records before signing with EMI and dropping 2011’s Chief. The album rode the success of its lead single, “Drink In My Hand,” and went triple platinum, establishing Church as a major player in Nashville’s radio country scene. He followed up with two more LP’s in 2014 and 2015, each of which went platinum and rode singles like “Springsteen,” “Give Me Back My Hometown,” and most recently, “Record Year.”

   Church, especially the version of him presented by EMI, is known for a certain outlaw flare, a more traditional country twang in his vocal, and heavily rock inspired instrumentation. While he is, by no means, a member of the growing outsider movement in country music, he is certainly a more radio friendly form of what people like Stapleton, Isbell, and Simpson are doing. He has tended to position himself against the grain in a few safe ways, but for the most part he is one of the higher quality members of the modern Nashville stable. His recent comment in criticism of the NRA, inspired by his being present at the deadly massacre in Las Vegas in 2017, was easily the most controversy he’s faced in the industry thus far, and they left me curious as to what we’d hear from him next. Well, Desperate Man is here, and it is a mixed bag in just about every way imaginable. We’ll start with the good.

   Church’s vocals on this album are very good. His twang fits very well in most of these tracks and he walks the line between county and blues in an interesting way. Tracks like “Higher Wire,,” and the closer, “Drowning Man,” benefit from this quite a bit and his upper register is surprisingly well executed.

   The instrumentation is also excellent here, perhaps the record’s best quality. The acoustic guitar on “Some Of It,” and the extremely creative opening to “Heart Like a Wheel,” stand out as a few especially exciting moments, and the title track even features a latin percussion section, but Drowning Man is really adorned with excellent instrumental work throughout.

   Eric Church’s ability to write earworm hooks is also here in spades, as it has been on previous projects. The chorus for “Jukebox and a Bar,” is perfectly hummable and the prechorus to the album’s best track, “Hangin’ Around,” is absolutely one of the best hooks of the year. Additionally, “Hippie Radio,” has a fun way of incorporating classic rock phrases into its chorus and will leave you singing along for days to come.

   Even the lyricism is well done here, mainly coming from the mind of Church himself as well as a few friends and collaborators. “The Snake,” for example, opens the record with an enigmatic story over the atmospheric, blue guitar and “Monsters,” is genuinely interesting, playing with the ideas of “killing a monster,” by turning on the light or checking under the bed. These are very nice touches which aren’t expected on a mainstream country album these days.

   For all of these reasons, Desperate Man can hardly be called unenjoyable. However, there are a few deep seeded issues which run through the heart of this album, many of them owing to unfinished ideas.

   There are some horrendous production decisions, most notably the vocal effect on “Solid,” which butchers an otherwise fun cut. The worst offensive, though, is this albums constant tendency to open tracks with the seeds for sprawling, interesting instrumentals before cutting them short in favor of traditional, 16 bar structure. “The Snake,” opens with a long, contemplative guitar riff before being tossed into a rhythmic cage for the song’s duration, “Heart Like A Wheel” features a unique, minor progression which resolves to a more traditional key before Church starts singing, and this happens far more than it should across the entire rest of this project. Plenty of modern country artists, Sturgill Simpson being perhaps the best known, toy with creative and even orchestral introductions, but when this is done, it needs to be further developed throughout the song. Instead, Church teases with a fun idea and expects credit for four bars of it.

   Eric Church isn’t the best artist in country today by any means, but he’s certainly one of the better voices receiving mainstream radio play. On top this, he’s still showing clear signs of growth, now seven releases into his career. Desperate Man is a huge improvement on its predecessor, but there’s still a lot of work to be done, which I worry may hindered by his need to keep his work accessible to larger crowds.

   Put simply, Desperate Man gives something to enjoy on every track, and yet leaves much to be desired just as often.

5/10

HEAR DROWNING MAN: https://open.spotify.com/album/5TjDN2hfsgNWVtP8Ew56Xx