Jimmy Buffett, "Songs From St. Somewhere" (Mailboat)
On Jimmy Buffett's first album in four years, the mayor of Margaritaville returns to mixing softly swaying beach tunes with pirate tales of foreign intrigue and social commentary. The problem, however, is Buffett's voice doesn't sound nearly as engaged as his imaginative songwriting and a few turns with inspired guests.
The 66-year-old veteran sounds bored on the island songs, snapping off each word with a clipped tone and a bland sense of phrasing -- an about-face from the performances that made Buffett such an enjoyable performer in the past. He sounds livelier on a series of ambitious songs about the mysterious adventures of a world traveler, but the tunes lack the hooks that made Buffett's famous songs of long ago so memorable.
There are positive exceptions, especially when guests Mark Knopfler (on "Oldest Surfer on the Beach") and Latin singer Fanny Lu (on a Spanish version of "I Want to Go Back to Cartagena") stir up the proceedings. Best of all is a duet with country star Toby Keith. "Too Drunk to Karaoke" bobs along with common-man humor and vivid writing and performing. It's the one song from the new album sure to become a favorite during Buffett's ever-popular live shows.