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When Jimmy Buffett died on September 1, he left a finished album in the can ready for release. Equal Strain on All Parts, his 32nd LP, is every bit the laidback, eclectic, inviting set of tunes you’d expect from the beloved singer-songwriter, bridging pop, country, and rock & roll, mixing island sounds and down-home vibes, and balancing five-o’clock-somewhere good times with gentle life wisdom.
The casually rocking “My Gummie Just Kicked In,” was inspired by something Paul McCartney’s wife Nancy Shevell said to Buffett at a dinner party, and features McCartney on bass. “Feeling no pain, she ejected from her chair/Sprang up on the table and let down her hair,” Buffett smilingly sings. “Close Calls” is an outlaw country tune about rolling through our tougher moments; “I don’t always use my brain,” Buffett buoyantly admits over hard-driving fiddles and acoustic guitars. “University of Bourbon Street,” featuring the Presentation Hall Jazz Band, looks back on his early days hanging out in New Orleans, with allusions to the Neville Brothers, second lines, and “the power of the gris gris.” There’s a Cuban rhythm on “Audience of One,” and a steel-drum melody on “Ti Punch Cafe,” in which Buffett shares a warm vocal with Beninese-French music icon Angelique Kidjo.
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Buffett sprinkles in a little light social commentary too. “Nobody Works on Friday” is a slice of folk-rock rebellion about carving out leisure time amidst our daily work grind that compares the clock-watching ethos of American corporate culture to the rest of the world: “Spain takes a summer siesta/Bossa nova heats up Brazil/But here the boss man’s glued to the cameras checking productivity.”
The album has several cover tunes, the best of which is a version of Bob Dylan’s 1976 song “Mozambique,” performed here with Emmylou Harris, who sang backing vocals on the original. They smooth out Dylan’s sweetly desultory melody, and savor the song’s lyrics about a romantic vacation lingering among “the lovely people living free.”
Equal Strain on All Parts wouldn’t be a Buffett album without a little seafaring knowledge, and that comes in the record’s centerpiece song, “Bubbles Up.” One of several tracks co-written with singer-songwriter Will Kimbrough, it’s a lovingly tendered life lesson that takes its theme from advice given to scuba divers, who are told to follow the bubbles to the surface if they find themselves down too deep. “When the journey gets long/Just know that you are loved/There is light up above/And the joy is always enough/Bubbles up,” Buffett offers with care and empathy. As the LP’s most endearing moment, it serves as a fitting final statement from an artist whose eternally abiding vibe grew over the decades to become a culture unto itself, helping millions upon millions of people keep floating along through life. He’ll keep doing it.
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