For someone who remains best known for one song, recorded nearly 20 years ago, Jimmy Buffett is swimming pretty these days. He has a clothing line, two best-selling novels, two restaurants, and a custom record label, which has just released Margaritaville Cafe New Orleans Late Night Gumbo, a collection of Cajun musicians that celebrates one of those eateries. He has 26 albums under his belt, the latest being Barometer Soup. And, of course, he has his devout fans, the Parrotheads a Hawaiian-shirted, alternate-universe version of the Deadheads, who, when not dragging margaritas out of their coolers at his high-grossing tours, are presumably wearing his sports shirts, reading his books, and buying his records.
What makes this modestly talented craftsman the object of such adulation? For starters, Buffett was the original rock slacker, extolling the virtues of the nonconformist, semiplastered lifestyle but without the nihilism of today's generation. As a timely reminder, MCA has rereleased a gold-plated Ultimate MasterDisc CD of the 1985 compilation Songs You Know By Heart Jimmy Buffett's Greatest Hit(s). It remains the only Buffett album for outsiders, a collection of clever, hummable folk rock with just the right amounts of self-deprecation (''Margaritaville''), boat-pier pensiveness (''Pirate Looks at Forty''), and singer-songwriter homilies (''Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes''). Cutesy novelty ditties, like ''Why Don't We Get Drunk [and screw],'' sound playful, not piggish. As with many of these overpriced ''24-karat gold'' discs, the sound is a bit fuller and richer than on a regular CD, but it surely helps to have a top-of-the-line audio system to appreciate it. B