REVIEW: Jake Owen – ‘American Love’

20160616_224441_10293_9313312015 was not a great year for Jake Owen professionally and personally. His marriage to Lacey Buchanan ended and they divorced at the end of the year. His single ‘Real Life’ was rejected by country radio and his record label personnel changed, leaving him wondering if he would be retained.

The album that was being planned for release and was almost in the can was scrapped. It was time to reboot and take stock.

Let’s put this into some sort of perspective however. We are not talking about “Mr One Hit Wonder”. This is a guy who has had 3 #1 US Hot Country singles and a huge hit with ‘Beachin’.

Whilst Sony Nashville have dropped Sara Evans and the Swon Brothers from the roster, they were hardly likely to dispense with Owen. New CEO Randy Goodman remained faithful and plans were afoot to start afresh.

It was a new regime at Sony and the fresh start seems to have been just what was required creatively for Owen.

It doesn’t harm your chances to have Shane McAnally as a co-writer and producer. It certainly assists somewhat if Chris Stapleton contributes a song and sings backing vocals. The proverbial icing on the cake was the success of the pre-album release single ‘American Country Love Song’ which has just broken into the top 10. Jake Owen badly needed another hit single.

So we come to the release of his 5th studio album ‘American Love’. His previous 4 albums have all managed top 10 positions. ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’, his most successful release to date, reached #1.

To be frank I approached this album with a degree of pessimism. There have been considerable highlights from Owen over the last decade. ‘Alone With You’ was a great song. ‘Real Life’ wasn’t. Thankfully, I can report that Jake Owen seems to have got his career back on track. He admits to an uncertainty about the perception of his music. “I always used to worry, was I country enough?”.

He originates from Florida and his ex and daughter live there. He now resides in Nashville and is part of the Music Row family. Despite this we suspect that there is a traditional country album in Jake Owen. He embraces the classics.

However this isn’t traditional country, nor would we expect it to be. He is not yet in a position to dictate and it’s pertinent that he only co-writes one of the 11 tracks on offer here.

There was a watershed moment for Nashville last year. “BS” is an acronym that has numerous meanings! On Music Row it stands for “before Stapleton”.

In many ways Owen’s music suited that era. His happy go lucky persona, the barefoot performances kicking a plastic inflatable around a stage whilst performing ‘Beachin’ and albums that lacked depth.It was time for a change. The old album was binned and ‘American Love’ serves as a very adequate replacement.

The title track opens proceedings. It’s an up-beat track that features a brass section. Not quite a Sturgill brass section but the summer grooves work just fine and it gets us in the mood for a surprisingly up-beat album, bearing in mind his personal woes over the last 12 months.

Jake Owen is a guy who clearly views life very much from the glass half full approach. There are no Blake/Miranda moments here. Self pity is not in his persona and even the love songs are written from a perspective that couldn’t be considered autobiographical.

‘Everybody Dies Young’ has Owen in a retrospective mood. Live the moment. “Time files by like a 4th July sky”. Have a little fun because everybody dies young.

Co-written by McAnally and Josh Osborne who perhaps isn’t as well known but we implore you to check out Osborne’s CV. You might know one or two of his songs or maybe even about 20. This will be another notch on the songwriter’s bedpost.

A standout will be the song that Chris Stapleton co-wrote with McAnally and Luke Laird ‘If He Ain’t Gonna Love You’. Once again the magic dust has been sprinkled and we foresee a huge radio hit here.

It’s a song that starts with a funky vibe but develops into a powerful heavy electric guitar-backed track with Stapleton’s distinctive vocals shining throughout. It was selected by Owen 3 years ago but that wasn’t the time for this song.

Owen’s only contribution to the song writing duties is the light, slide guitar-backed ‘LAX’. Probably the most traditional country song on the album and it’s a gem. It’s also a debut for Owen in the producer’s chair. Another milestone.

Hillary Lindsey contributes harmonies on the album’s big ballad ‘When You Love Somebody’, a song she co-wrote. Just two voices and a piano. Very simple but also extremely effective.

‘VW Van’ is Owen’s mascot song. The album cover features his Bahamian VW that he bought from a woman in North Carolina. He calls it ‘The Love Bus’ and it also takes centre stage in the video to ‘American Country Love Song’.

It’s natural therefore that it is the subject of a light hearted and somewhat throwaway track on the album.

Dierks regularly pays homage to his favourite truck. Jake’s vehicle of choice is his ‘Love Bus’. It somewhat personifies Jake Owen.

You can take man from the beach but you can’t take the beach from the man. He has turned the van into a travelling surf board and keeps the perma tan. The guy is hard not to like and the same can be said for this album.

It won’t be a contender for album of the year but it might just be something that you will be putting on repeat for a while.  An unexpected pleasure.