Every major recording artist seems to have some juvenilia in the catalog that has gotten away somehow and gets repackaged endlessly, ripping off fans and making life hard for discographers. In Jimmy Buffett's case, that juvenilia consists of the recordings he made for Barnaby Records in the early '70s. Originally issued on the LPs Down to Earth (1970) and High Cumberland Jubilee (1976), they have also turned up on Before the Salt (1979) and Before the Beach (1993), and are available to any entity that wants to lease them from Celebrity Licensing, Inc., slap a current photograph on the cover, and put out a CD. That's what bottom-feeder bargain label LaserLight has done with American Storyteller, which draws eight tracks from Down to Earth and three from High Cumberland Jubilee, plus "Richard Frost," first released as a bonus track on Varèse Sarabande's 1998 reissue of Down to Earth. This is not the freewheeling Jimmy Buffett of "Margaritaville," but rather a thoughtful folk-rock singer/songwriter of the early '70s, earnestly strumming an acoustic guitar over a rhythm section and singing lyrics of social consciousness with sly references to drugs ("Ellis Dee," "A Mile High in Denver"). The most striking track is the leadoff song, "The Christian?" (the LaserLight album ignorantly drops the question mark from the title), an attack on religious hypocrisy that sounds like the sort of thing Kris Kristofferson was writing about the same time. Buffett may have hoped to tap into the same strain of mature songwriting that Kristofferson rode to fame at the time, but things worked out a little differently. There is some good work on this album, but it is not characteristic of the lighter tone Buffett took later, and potential buyers shouldn't buy it expecting his usual style.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann