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 is the recordings he made for Barnaby Records in the early 1970s. 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 did with American Storyteller in 1999, and a year later its sister label, Delta, came out with a companion volume, the oddly titled Best of the Early Years, which contains 11 of the 12 remaining Barnaby tracks. (Adding to the confusion, another Delta imprint, Legend, simultaneously released a two-CD version of Best of the Early Years that packages the two discs together.) The album starts with two songs from Down to Earth and ends with another track from that album, the eight in the middle coming from High Cumberland Jubilee. The Down to Earth songs are seriously minded, simple folk-rock songs expressing a distinct social conscience, while the High Cumberland Jubilee numbers are musically more ambitious, boasting a string section and some involved arrangements. They are also a little odder lyrically, containing hints of Buffett's light later style, but no more than that. The original albums do not benefit from being jumbled up in this way, and Best of the Early Years is a deceptive title for a disc that should have been called "Rest of the Barnaby Recordings" to be an accurate description of the contents.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann