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), Before the Beach (1993), and Collector's Edition: There's Nothing Soft About Hard Times (1999), and are available to any entity that wants to lease them from Celebrity Licensing, Inc. and put out a CD. Bottom-feeder bargain label Delta released 12 of the tracks under the title American Storyteller on its LaserLight imprint in 1999, following in 2000 with both a single-disc Best of the Early Years, containing 11 of the remaining 12 songs, and this box-set repackaging of the two albums also, confusingly, called Best of the Early Years, on its Legend subsidiary. (The missing track is "England" from Down to Earth.) It's too bad that tracks from the two original albums have been mixed up, because they are quite different. The ones from Down to Earth portray Buffett as 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 tracks from High Cumberland Jubilee are a bit more ambitious musically, boasting a string section, and they sometimes contain hints of humor typical of the later Buffett. On the whole, there is some good work on this album, but it is not characteristic of the lighter tone Buffett eventually took, and potential customers shouldn't buy it expecting his usual style.
AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann
Track Listing - Disc 1
Track Listing - Disc 2