Last spring, Jimmy Buffett recorded vocals for a future album, “Equal Strain on All Parts,” at his Key West studio. At the time, he was being honored for one of his oldest signature made-in-the-Keys songs.
Now, a week after Buffett died at his Long Island home from Merkel cell skin cancer, the world has started to listen to some of his new music. On Friday, the early release tracks hit download and streaming services, including Amazon Music, Apple Music, YouTube Music, Deezer, Tidal, Pandora, Qobuz and Spotify.
The full album, including the three just-issued new songs, will be released Nov. 3.
Beatle to Buffett
The sneak peeks include two songs Paul McCartney rhapsodized about on an affectionate Facebook post dedicated to his pal last weekend.
“My Gummie Just Kicked In,” which features the Beatles and Wings man on bass, originated last year at a dinner party with Buffett, his wife Jane, McCartney, and his wife, Nancy.
According to a media release from Buffett’s Florida-based publicist, “Nancy stumbled on her way to the dinner table, and when a worried Buffett asked her if she was OK, she responded: ‘Oh, no — I’m fine. My gummie just kicked in!’”
Buffett, McCartney said, immediately responded, “That’s a good idea for a song.”
The other two featured singles out now and on Buffett’s Radio Margaritaville are an album highlight: “Bubbles Up,” and the playful “Like My Dog,” which feels particularly poignant given that Buffett was surrounded by his family and his dogs Lola, Kingston, Pepper, Rosie, Ajax, and Kody in his final days at his Long Island home.
Of “Bubbles Up,” a Buffett and Will Kimbrough original, McCartney wrote on his post: “The vocal was probably the best I’ve heard him sing ever. He turned a diving phrase that is used to train people underwater into a metaphor for life when you’re confused and don’t know where you are just follow the bubbles — they’ll take you up to the surface and straighten you out right away.”
What does Buffett’s new album sound like?
“Equal Strain on All Parts,” released on Buffett’s Mailboat Records through a Sun Records distribution deal, takes its title from a phrase the singer-songwriter’s grandfather James Delaney Buffett coined for taking a nap.
Fittingly, the album is a typically breezy and smooth 14-track, 53-minute musical trip through Buffett-styled Caribbean island rhythms, a bit of Gulf and Western country on “Close Calls,” an opening blast of New Orleans jazz and the bard’s musings on the life that led him on his Key West-kissed life’s journey.
“I guess I was born with that nomad gene/There’s very little of this planet that I have not seen,” Buffett sings on the jaunty “Portugal or PEI” before referencing a line he tweaks from his own 1979 classic, “Volcano”: “Where am I gonna go when the volcano blows/Everybody is always asking.”
He takes listeners “From down in Marathon up to the coast of Maine” in the hook-filled “Fish Porn.”
The record, co-produced by veteran Coral Reefers, Michael Utley and Mac McAnally, opens with a barrel-house piano riff you might hear wafting over the sidewalks outside a New Orleans club on “University of Bourbon Street.” A horn section blast from the album’s first guest, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, bleeds into Buffett’s introductory line.
“I guess the point of going to college was to acquire myself a little knowledge/And help me figure out/What life is really all about.”
Buffett’s closing messages
And what had Buffett learned in his 76 years on this planet if “Equal Strain on All Parts” is to be taken as his final guide?
Perhaps some quintessential Buffett-bred wisdom.
“Life can be a pickle or a stalk of sugarcane,” he sings as country fiddles saw away on the whimsical “Close Calls.” “One day you’re wrestling gators/Next you’re singing ‘Never Been to Spain’/I’ve been in a lot of tight spots/So many that I can’t explain/Big shots, bon mots, I don’t always use my brain.’”
But the track Buffett fans who go for his more poetic, reflective side may gravitate toward is the album’s penultimate track, “Columbus.” There, for a bit over four minutes, the pensive singer is many miles away from “Margaritaville,” the Florida Keys hit that landed Buffett in the Library of Congress’ National Recordings Registry in April.
“So I dream of Columbus every time the panic starts,” Buffett sings in a voice burnished deeper than the one he used on the equally tender “Biloxi” dispatch he recorded for “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes” inside North Miami’s Criteria Studios in 1977.
“You dream of Columbus/With your maps and your beautiful charts/You dream of Columbus with an ache in your traveling heart.”