Jimmy Buffett scored four consecutive gold or platinum albums in the second half of the 1970s, but the first half of the 1980s has not been so friendly for him, in record stores at least. (On tour, things have gone fine.) So, with Riddles in the Sand, Buffett seems to have determined to take another shot at the country market, hooking up with producers Jimmy Bowen and Tony Brown (plus Buffett's touring keyboardist and frequent songwriting partner Michael Utley) and returning to Nashville. The idea seems to have been to devote the first side of the LP to country-related fare, with the second side remaining in Buffett's familiar soft rock/Caribbean mode. Outside songwriting certainly produces potential country hits. Any good country singer could do something with typical Nashville formula fare like "She's Going Out of My Mind" (written by Mac McAnally, whose songs Buffett has covered before) and "Bigger Than the Both of Us." "Who's the Blonde Stranger?," written by Utley, Josh Leo, and Will Jennings, sounds like another product of a Nashville songwriting session, albeit one probably intended to tailor material to Buffett's lightly comic, tropical vacation persona. Side two, entirely written by Buffett, Utley, and Jennings, has more of the singer's idiosyncratic identity, but that turns out not to be too far from a Nashville style. He likes to twist clichés and affect a devil-may-care attitude, as he does notably on "Burn That Bridge" (chorus: "We'll burn that bridge when we come to it"). Although Buffett started out trying to make it as a country singer, he eventually carved out his own niche. Maybe it's a marketing move to try country again, or maybe he never gave up the Music City dream. But why be a second-rate Nashville star when you can be the Man from Margaritaville?
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann