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), Before the Beach (1993), and American Storyteller (1999), and are available to any entity that wants to lease them from Celebrity Licensing, Inc., and put out a CD. That's what bottom-feeder bargain label Madacy has done with There's Nothing Soft About Hard Times, which draws seven tracks from Down to Earth and five from High Cumberland Jubilee. (There is also a two-CD version, Collector's Edition: There's Nothing Soft About Hard Times, Madacy 3470, which contains this album as its first disc and 11 more of the Barnaby tracks on its second disc.) 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 ("A Mile High in Denver"). Tracks from High Cumberland Jubilee, such as the title track, with their string charts, are a bit more ambitious musically, and a couple of tracks, notably "Captain America," hint at Buffett's slightly comic later style. But, for the most part, he is serious and at times nearly caustic, in a similar vein to the writing and singing Kris Kristofferson was doing at the same time. There is some good work on this album, but it is not characteristic of the lighter tone he took later, and potential customers shouldn't buy it expecting his usual style.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann