Given the nice, mild weather that Britain has been experiencing over the last few days, it makes sense to find a record as equally sun-kissed, and Jimmy Buffett's ninth studio release, Volcano, aims to provide just the thing for a day full of blue skies.
It's really on this particular offering where the hitmaking side of Buffett started to come alive. Following the successes of Margaritaville from the Changes In Lattiudes, Changes In Attitudes album two years earlier, the two followups with both Son Of A Son Of Sailor and Volcano both spawned a string of tracks that have come to soundtrack Buffett's career. Combined with this, Volcano also features those deeper cuts that Buffett and his fans have come to love since this album's release some forty two years ago.
The skills of Buffett as a hitmaker are evident on both the opening couple of Fins and Volcano which have, as time has passed, gone onto become live staples of Buffett's live sets. This is certainly true when I had the pleasure of seeing him at the London Palladium back in September 2019 where both songs were played within a couple of each other. Fins makes for a brilliant opener with its bouncing melody and playful lyricism, helped along by the harmonica from Fingers Taylor, who over time became a vital part of the Coral Reefer Band. In recent years, there's been no-one there to replace him, so it's nice to hear how much he brought to some of Buffett's biggest tunes. With its catchy hook too, it's little surprise that Fins has become one of Buffett's Big Eight.
That playful nature also extends into the album's title track, which balances an up-tempo reggae tune with a pretty dark subject matter. The track, and indeed album, are inspired by the then-dormant Soufriere Hills volcano on Montserrat where Buffett recorded Volcano at AIR Studios. It's gained some form of poignance when the volcano did actually explode in 1995, causing devastation, and also on a slightly brighter note, allowed Buffett to give the track a new lease of life, kickstarted by his appearance at the Music For Montserrat benefit concert at London's Royal Albert Hall. This marked the first of only four musical appearances for Buffett in England, with the other three coming within the last two decades, with an appearance at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, a small cameo for A Pirate Looks At Forty with Jack Johnson at Hyde Park, as well as the aforementioned Palladium concert in 2019. This hopefully will be turned into five appearances a little bit later in the year, if all goes to plan.
Things are slowed down on the following Treat Her Like A Lady which also marks the first break from the hits for a couple of the following tracks. It forms a key part of Buffett's Live In Anguilla concert, which places his classic island sound on one of the most picturesque locations with the Caribbean. That gig provided the opportunity to play all sorts of deeper cuts, including a couple that spawned from Volcano. The song is also Volcano's first ballad and a return to the one-man-and-his-guitar sound last seen on some of Buffett's earlier records such as A1A., so- called because of the Florida State Road, which makes it one of the best songs on offer here. Furthermore, compared to the likes of Fins, Treat Her Like A Lady seems one of Volcano's most purposeful tunes, given both its clever storytelling and the fact it's helped along by James Taylor's backing vocals that confirms this track's almost yacht-rock credentials.
The same can also be said for Stranded On A Sandbar that, in another universe, would've fitted perfectly into James Taylor's repertoire. It's got this marvellous build from that solo guitar piece through the additions of organ, electric guitar, bass and drums, right onto a full band sound by the song's halfway point. The little instrumental break is positively relaxing, helped on once again by Fingers Taylor's harmonica and the Coral Reefer's army of backing singers. As much as Volcano is an album based on hits, it's refreshing to hear its other side and maybe there's a chance that a song like this could be played more often due to its standout nature.
Volcano's first side closes out with one of the more French offerings, namely Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants. This is the first or second time on the album where Buffett properly explores his storytelling side, and is a song that works well when sung to a small group of people, as he did on Live In Anguilla. Jimmy himself has acknowledged its obscure status amongst fans, selecting it as one of the tracks to be featured on his alternative compilation Songs You Don't Know By Heart that was released last November. Thanks to its inflections of acoustic guitar that are threaded throughout, as well as the light piano and percussion, Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants is noticeably brighter sounding, making it a tune with a lot of the feel-good factor. This isn't necessarily true for Survive that follows, that, with its low piano groove wouldn't sound out of place on an Elton John album. Interestingly, this appears to be one of the few Buffett tunes that isn't driven by a guitar of any kind. That decision to use a piano adds something a little different to this particular ballad and with its strings too, also makes it a little bit more heartfelt.
Buffett's classic upbeat sound returns on the ensuing Lady I Can't Explain with its prominent bassline and soaring guitar solo. It's that bassline that gives this song a pronounced groove that hadn't been present on Volcano up to now and it provides a welcome change to the slower songs that precede it. As with the likes of Chanson Pour Les Petits Enfants, Lady I Can't Explain also features some nice storytelling within the lyrics about a man who thinks he's incomparable to his girlfriend and that he has to continuously make himself look better whilst she can "keep on bein".
The hits partially return on the comical Boat Drinks that goes along nicely with Buffett's traditional island sound. This is furthered by the song's subject matter that concerns someone who wishes to get away to a hot island in the bleak winter months - "I gotta go where it's warm", Jimmy sings, as he continuously asks for more drink in an attempt to replicate the holiday culture. As with Fins, Boat Drinks features a bouncy melody and clever lyricism that make for great listening, and with that catchy sound in mind, as well as the deep-rooted island sound, it should come as little surprise that Boat Drinks can act as one of the biggest singalongs of any Coral Reefer gig.
For Volcano's final pair, it marks a return to the obscurities with Dreamsicle and Sending The Old Man Home. The first of the two comes as a rather jovial tune about a man who reminisces about his past and also dreams of a return to the days of sailing ships. The sound of Jimmy's acoustic guitar as well as the light backing vocals dates this track back to 1969 as opposed to 1979, offering something that would have easily fitted on Jimmy's first couple of solo offerings. There's a certain biographical element to the lyric that once again showcases Jimmy's stellar ability to tell a great story and even with a greater country feeling than some of Volcano's earlier tracks, Dreamsicle still maintains that classic Buffett bounce.
Things are notably slowed down for the final Sending The Old Man Home that, once again, makes use of both James Taylor and Fingers Taylor on harmonica to just add that little bit of edge to one of Jimmy's most heartfelt ballads. It's almost an extension of the much older The Captain And The Kid that deals with old captains unfortunately losing their spirit of adventure due to old age. There's an argument to perhaps suggest that Sending The Old Man Home is a continuation of not only The Captain And The Kid but also A Pirate Looks At Forty, as the sea captains grow older and they're no longer able to do the things they used to. Thanks to James Taylor's addition of a little bit more definition to the overall song, it really does set Sending The Old Man Home apart from other tracks both here and in Buffett's esteemed discography.
Volcano is certainly an album for the true Parrothead. With its eclectic mix of hits and rarities, it's designed for those looking to delve a little deeper into the back catalogue of the master of the island sound. There's the hits to please the masses, but Volcano is a collection of Buffett tracks that can only be truly appreciated as a collective. It's just irresistable.
If you want to pick up a copy, I'll leave an Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2NFCb3z
Or if you'd prefer, here's a Spotify link:
More musical magnificence to come next time!
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