It's time to continue with the summer vibes and bright colours offered by Coldplay last week with a long-awaited return to the self-proclaimed King Of Somewhere Hot himself, Jimmy Buffett and his sterling 1996 offering Banana Wind.
If you were around for our Music For Summer playlist this time last year, you'll remember that this particular Buffett record was picked. To be perfectly honest, picking a Jimmy Buffett album to listen to and review for this column becomes like picking a favourite child - it's incredibly difficult. Banana Wind however seemed like a good choice, not least because I've discussed it before, but because whenever you come back to it, there's always something new to discover.
Much like other Buffett releases of the nineties and some of the eighties, it's got his signature island sound threaded from start to finish with the likes of opener Only Time Will Tell and Holiday featuring smatterings of Robert Greenidge's steel drums mixed with an upbeat vocal and clever lyricism about all manner of topics from politics to the dire need of relaxation. Buffett's inherent strength lies within his marvellous ability to fuse such insightful lines with an easily digestible backing, and with lines prophesying the future of politics such as"Are we destined to be ruled by a bunch of old white men/Who compare the world to football and are programmed to defend". With who's in charge of the USA at the moment, there certainly seems like a whole shedload of irony in Buffett's words from some twenty-four years ago.
Banana Wind doesn't come without Buffett's recognisable tracks about personal stories, such as Jamaica Mistaica. It's a slow, brooding reggae romp about one of his most gripping tales surrounding the time he got shot by Jamaican authorities onboard his seaplane the Hemisphere Dancer that now sits proudly outside the Margaritaville restaurant in CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort. As a song, it's one of his more blunt efforts, offering up some staccato melodies mixed in wonderfully with a dreamy backing. Just a couple of tracks later comes the album's title song, an instrumental that leans heavily on percussion, steel drums and some light acoustic guitar melodies to cultivate a marvellous feeling of tranquility and a carefree attitude that only Buffett and the Coral Reefers could compose. You get the sense that this is really his bread and butter - it's a real drinking song in the sense you can sit back, have a couple of drinks, watch the world go by and sink away into the summer heat.
Whilst AllMusic described Banana Wind as not having "a single distinctive song on the record", I'd have to disagree. Its best and most distinctive songs are found nestled both in the middle and at the back-end, with both Bob Robert's Society Band and the hidden track, a cover of Stephen Stills' Treetop Flyer, offering a stark contrast in sound and overall content. Bob Robert's Society Band concerns a local Floridian band that plays inoffensive big-band music in the midst of all the "headline blues" in the Sunshine State, with its own bouncy melody that fits the track perfectly. Unbeknownst to me, the Bob Robert's Society Band were actually a real band, as portrayed in this Sun & Sentinel article from back in 2002 - https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/fl-xpm-2002-12-01-0211270424-story.html. The cover of Stephen Stills' Treetop Flyer is a literal hidden gem, acting as the album's only hidden track following its culmination. Buffett's version is certainly a groovy affair and stands up to the rarely-heard original. Much like the original, there's a certain trancing quality to Buffett's rendition with its stripped back nature, featuring him, an acoustic guitar and little else. Stills' original featured just him and his Martin acoustic in the late sixties, as did the studio release from the Stills Alone album in 1991.
The playful two fingers Buffett gives to classical culture on Cultural Infidel is certainly one of Banana Wind's standout tunes, shedding light on some people's views on the likes of Hemingway or Socrates as "old farts" that we all need to have an eye on. It's definitely not his own personal perceptions, not least from the fact that Buffett is known to be an admirer of Hemingway. As a song, it's one of his best, with his Gulf & Western sound here in spades, and there's even a small delve into a more Latin sound on the song's bridge, banishing the likes of the aforementioned Hemingway and Picasso to hell. The movement into other sounds is also heard on Overkill, which once again deals with Buffett's speciality of fusing an island sound with political lyrics. Within in the song's inventive rap section, he takes aim at executives and politicians who actively get paid for taking holiday and who have little care for anything but themselves. As such, he explores how "They don't do the shows/But they act like the stars/They fly around in G-4's and suck on big cigars." It's one of the more well-written tunes here, and undoubtedly one of his cleverest.
Over its 67 minute duration, Banana Wind allows you to escape away from the mundane world we're living in today and enter a sun-kissed land filled with margaritas, steel drums and an awful lot of fun. It's well worth a listen in the summer months and to be honest, there's no better man to guide you through the summer than Jimmy himself.
If you want to pick up a copy, I’ll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/30mEKeh
Or, if you’d prefer, here’s a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next week!
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