ALBUM REVIEW: Jake Owen – ‘Greetings From… Jake’

Jake Owen is back, baby, although don’t let Jake hear you say that because in his mind he has never been away and it will make him angry! ‘Greetings…’ replete with its front-cover, vacation postcard imagery, is Jake’s first album since 2016’s ‘American Love’ if you don’t count the ‘get me out of my recording contract’ Greatest Hits album from the following year which brought an end to his time with RCA Nashville and that three album golden run of ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’, ‘Days of Gold’ and ‘American Love’. It was that run of albums that really saw Owen make a leap forward in both his sound and his status within Country music, moving away from the more traditional, almost embryonic Bro-Country sound of his earlier albums. Signing to Big Loud Records seems to have given Owen a much-needed shot in the arm and given him the artistic freedom to explore and amalgamate all his influences together in one place –  so ‘Greetings From… Jake’ could be said to be the most ‘Jake Owen’ album that he has released in his career to date. It features songs that could have come from the early part of his career with a more traditional sound and also ones that could have been plucked from that aforementioned golden run of RCA Nashville albums that contained a more polished, pop-chart sheen. ‘Greetings…’ is a re-introduction of what Jake Owen stands for, with its 90’s Country guitar lines and witty observations mingling seamlessly alongside more mature, more thoughtful songs about life, love and legacy – showing us a more grown up side to a man who, if you listen to his podcast (‘Good Company’) or listen to him sparring with Bobby Bones on his radio show or podcasts (‘Bobby Cast’) you’ll know to be a deep-thinking, sensitive and very authentic lover of Country music.

‘Greetings…’ opens with a triple shot of 90’s themed Country music. ‘Down to the Honkytonk’ has been a great single for Jake Owen these past few months, getting him back out there amongst ‘his people’, also showing that real Country music can get back on the charts if its good enough. It’s a great sing-along and its inclusive lyrics and humble, simple outlook on life, containing mass appeal which has reaped dividends in putting Owen’s name back in the spotlight for his music rather than his lifestyle or personal life. ‘Ain’t Here to Talk’ and Catch a Cold One’ are songs birthed from the exact gene pool of ‘…Honkytonk’ – simple, effective 90’s tinged dancing and singing songs. The former is about two-stepping whilst the latter, with its hilarious, ‘the only good boat is a sold one,’ line, is about drinking a cold beer at the end of the day and shrugging off your troubles. ‘If you want a good song, play an old one,’ Jake urges disingenuously, because there are plenty of good ones on ‘Greetings…’ you could choose to play instead! Another song from the album that is dripping in 90’s Country vibes is album closer, ‘Damn’. Steel and electric guitars play whilst we find Jake in awe of the girl in front of him as he sings, ‘Your mama should have named you damn, from all the things that you do to a man.’ It’s a brave move in these days of MeToo to pull out a line like that, but placed as it is here, within a retro-sounding 90’s tinged Country song, Owen pulls it off with the right amount of cheeky charm and brash confidence, tipping his hat to those artists that have gone before him and paved the way.

Fans of Jake Owen’s more modern output have no need to fear that he has done a ‘Midland’ and taken a complete step back in time, there are still plenty of songs that’ll you’ll recognise on ‘Greetings…’ Most people can’t fail to have heard his modern re-working of Mellencamp’s ‘Jack & Diane’, re-titled ‘I Was Jack (You Were Diane) by now as it has been around for a over a year but there are other tracks that could have been lifted from ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’, ‘Days of Gold’ or ‘American Love’ as well. ‘Drink All Day’ has those Floridian beach vibes that we’ve come to expect from Owen, Mraz-esque rhythms and beach drums drive the song forward as Owen advises us that ‘you can’t drink all day if you don’t start in the morning,’ whilst ‘That’s on Me’ is Owen’s ‘getting jiggy with it’ song for this album, as smooth beats and urgent vocals see him insisting that the whiskey is on Jack and the throwback is on Cash whilst ‘lovin’ on you, that’s on me’. It’s a chilled out, laid back song that longtime fans will connect with immediately. Similarly, ‘Mexico in Our Minds’ melds the beach vibes of ‘Drink All Day’ with the lovin’ vibes of ‘That’s on Me’ as Owen sings about imagining that he and his lady can take themselves back to the white sands of Mexico on this ‘Tennessee Saturday night’ with a few beers, a bit of Jimmy Buffett and a healthy dose of imagination – the vibe again on this track is quieter, slightly more mature-grown up Jake Owen. It’s the Jake Owen, soon to be father of two, in a long-term relationship Jake Owen rather than the ‘cheshire grin’ party boy of some of his previous songs – and that look suits him.

Of course, that rebel-rousing, beer drinking centre-of-attention guy is still there inside Jake and it comes to the fore on what is one of the strongest tracks on the album, ‘Grass is Always Greener’. ‘Grass….’ with its laissez-faire type of attitude to life is a huge sing-along, fun live song that sees Owen working in tandem with Kid Rock, a controversial figure in the music industry for many reasons, not withstanding his vocal support for Donald Trump. Obligatory references to drugs in the chorus tick the current Country music trend for positioning oneself on the ‘legalise cannabis’ side of the debate but the song is much more than just a cheeky nod in that direction, it’s a superbly constructed anthem about not worrying about what other people are up to or acquiring and just being happy and content in your own skin. Easily one of the best songs on ‘Greetings…’ and one Owen could be singing live for a considerable amount of years to come.

A further controversial collaboration on ‘Greetings…’ sees Owen singing the incredibly Hispanic flavoured ‘Senorita’ with Instagram influencer Lele Pons. The song itself is fine, sort of Ricky Martin – Enrique Iglesias lite. It sees Owen, with his Floridian roots, following the path of artists like Kane Brown, in choosing to embrace and encompass Hispanic rhythms within Country music. For some artists this is nothing more than a cynical commercial decision, given the flourishing nature of the Latino music industry but it doesn’t feel contrived here, given that a large part of Floridian life and culture is influenced by Latino and Hispanic people and communities that have migrated up from the south. The bigger issue is with Owen’s choice of partner on ‘Senorita’. It is here that I’ll claim ignorance of who or what Lele Pons is famous for but my two teenagers reacted with shock and demanded that we take the song off the playlist when they heard it and saw who Owen’s collaborator was, having a negative view of her from her apparent use of Instagram and social media. I educated them about Kid Rock, they re-paid the favour for me about Lele Pons – two very controversial characters from two very differing age demographics!!

Perhaps the three best songs on ‘Greetings…’ find Jake Owen in a reflective, grown up mood. ‘River of Time’ won’t be a single, with its gentle, lilting Dierks Bentley-esque feels  but it’s a lovely song, looking back to childhood and forward to what the future might bring whilst ‘Made for You’ is easily THE ‘love song’ of 2019 and it’s no wonder that Michael Ray and Carly Pearce have asked Owen to sing it at their wedding this summer. It’s a stunning song in its simplicity, yet with all great Country songs, there’s such a beauty, an honesty and a truth to its lyrics that mean you can’t help but fight off that lump in your throat every time you listen to it but it’s ‘Homemade’ that is the stand-out track on the album for me. Owen sings about his origins and his history with such an openness on this track, which provides the best moment on ‘Greetings…’ with its elongated chorus and a melody that just begs you to sing along with him. Alongside ‘Grass is Always Greener’ and ‘Made for You’ this should be a single release to radio sometime in the next 18 months and it will SLAY!!!!

‘Greetings From… Jake’ feels like the perfect re-introduction to an artist who has produced some of the finest and most well put together modern Country music over the past decade. It sees him taking a step back in time to his 90’s roots without losing that sense of pop melody that made songs like ‘Alone With You’ or ‘When You Love Someone’ so appealing. Owen has re-discovered a sense of freedom and fun with Big Loud Records but that is balanced out on ‘Greetings…’ by him embracing aging, embracing his stature as a soon to be father of two and reflecting a little more on his origins and what he wants the next phase of his life to be about. It’s a perfect mix of 90’s cheeky Country vibes and reflective musings of the meaning of life and as an album as a whole, it feels very complete, like albums used to do in the ‘good old days’ before playlists and shuffle came along and made everything disposable. The highest accolade I can give it is that it sits right at home alongside ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’ and ‘Days of Gold’ – completing the trilogy of ‘great’ albums that Jake Owen has produced in his career. Now, if only he’d take the time to come and play some shows in the UK so we could finally hear some of these wonderful songs in a live setting!!

James Daykin
Twitter – @rockjames
Portfolio – https://jamesdaykin.journoportfolio.com