The short version: If you don’t take it all that seriously, Jake Owen’s latest album is a fairly decent summer album released in spring.
- Favorite tracks: “River Of Time,” “In It,” “Made For You,” “Mexico In Our Minds,” “Damn”
- Least favorite track: “Grass Is Always Greener (w/ Kid Rock)”
- Rating: 6/10
The long version: For as many problems as bro-country caused, the issue was never its existence.
No, the issue was that, like any trend throughout country music history, it saturated the market by an overly frustrating amount. Truthfully, there was good bro-country also being made during this time frame.
One of the artists who I’d argue did it fairly well was Jake Owen. Sure, songs like “Beachin’,” and “Days Of Gold” were fairly goofy and dumb, but they were played with enough cornball earnestness to make them too hard to actively dislike. It helps that Owen is one of country music’s most charismatic and likable performers next to Blake Shelton.
But with a recent shifting of the tides in mainstream country music, Owen definitely got lost in the shuffle on 2016’s American Love as he experimented to uncomfortable degrees. No, I wasn’t much of a fan of “I Was Jack (You Were Diane)” or “Down To The Honkytonk” ahead of his newest release, Greetings From … Jake, but both songs managed to grow on me once I stopped taking them all that seriously. And, given that the album artwork and looser vibe of those singles depicted we were getting a summer album, I thought maybe Owen could get back to being the lovable goofball we all know him as.
And that’s an important note to make, because I’d say one’s like or dislike of this album will depend on how seriously they take it. The content is fairly lightweight across the board, Owen is rarely trying to be all that serious, and the grooves and melodies are bright rather than gloomy. In other words, this actually manages to be a rare example of an artist succeeding with a summer album.
Of course, there are problems with this album that hold it back from being great, and I’ll get to those. But considering I expected the production to be a mess based off of the overblown groove and chintzy percussion of “I Was Jack,” Greetings From … Jake is surprisingly very pleasant. The grooves are mostly organic and crisp thanks to well-balanced acoustics, prominent pedal steel and even piano at points to strengthen the melodic foundation. I will preface this by saying it often comes at the cost of stellar lyrical content, but there’s points where the instrumental and production mix truly carry the song.
Granted, anyone who’s noticed the shift in direction with mainstream country music could have likely seen this coming (as well as the fact that Owen is a judge on a show called Real Country), but it’s nice to hear Owen mostly play to his strengths on this album. The swampy outlaw bass groove on “Down To The Honky Tonk” has been a highlight since I first heard it, and that same looser organic groove complete with slide guitar and an extended outro also makes “Ain’t Here To Talk” fairly nice. Even despite how corny “Homemade” and “Made For You” are, when Owen is matched against warmer tones, he’s surprisingly earnest in his delivery.
On the other hand, there’s also moments where it’s confusing as to what Owen’s team was going for. “Catch A Cold One” can’t make up its mind whether it wants to use drum machines or real drums, and the real shame is that it would have been better if it had just stuck with the latter option all the way through. The groove on “That’s On Me” carries no weight to it, meanwhile “I Was Jack” still suffers from overmixing entirely. If anything, his attempt to really branch out only really works on “Mexico In Our Minds,” with its surprisingly good atmospheric banjo matched against the crashing of waves and a dreamier vibe.
On another level though, most of the best songs here are because of Owen himself. He’s a self-proclaimed goofball on “Down To The Honky Tonk,” and despite how thin the actual execution of “Homemade” is, Owen certainly nails the warm, wistful sentiment.
And there’s no better test to further that claim than on the final tracks of the album, namely the three-track-run of “In It,” “River Of Time,” and “Made For You” where the warm acoustics and Owen himself are at the forefront. He’s likable enough to where you sympathize with him on “In It,” in the same way it’s hard to find him sleazy on the good-natured “Ain’t Here To Talk.” “River Of Time” nails an excellent mix of a steady tempo, pedal steel and acoustics to craft a bright, optimistic tune, and “Made For You” mostly sails on atmosphere alone. For as good as Owen is at selling a good time, he’s also adept at selling his tender side.
But that’s not a note I can always say for his guest artists. Lele Pons is fine on “Señorita,” though I would have preferred to hear a little more from her. But Kid Rock sounds like the producers just woke him out of bed to sing on “Grass Is Always Greener,” a really dumb track all around.
And speaking of that, let’s finally get to the content … and hey, did I mention how good Owen and the production are? Don’t get me wrong, the actual lyricism here is rarely bad, but it is fairly thin all around. “Ain’t Here To Talk” comes across better than it should – Owen is honestly just looking for a good time on the dance floor rather than anything afterward. But the sage advice offered on “Catch A Cold One” and “Drink All Day” to essentially drink one’s life away to find happiness doesn’t quite resonate as much. “Grass Is Always Greener” tries to turn that age-old saying into an extended metaphor for a weed reference and isn’t nearly as clever as it thinks it is. “Homemade,” despite being stellar in every other area, also tries to coast on southern clichés.
Admittedly, even the best tracks here can also suffer from this. “River Of Time” is a fairly standard look at the concept of mortality, though I will argue Owen’s delivery sells its wistful tone excellently. “Made For You” tries to connect items similar to each other to get its point across, except that said items rarely have anything to do with the actual hook of the narrator being connected to his significant other. And even though I really dug the piano melody of “Damn,” it offers a fairly weak hook for what should have been a better song.
But like with all of Owen’s albums, there’s usually one song that really sticks the landing, and here, that’s “In It.” Here, Owen parts ways with his lover amicably and wishes nothing but the best for her. Sure, the memories are mostly relegated to clichés, but his likable delivery makes the track feel nuanced and mature.
And if any other artist had tried to tackle this album other than Owen, I’m not quite sure it would have worked effectively as a whole. But for as lightweight and admittedly stupid as Greetings From … Jake can be, it’s also too blissfully self-aware of its corniness to really dislike all that much. Instead, the grooves and production textures are surprisingly warm and organic, Owen sounds mostly likable and comfortable, and the content has its moments. It’s certainly a bloated record, with tracks such as “Catch A Cold One,” and “Grass Is Always Greener” certainly begging to be cut from the track list. But as a whole, while I won’t say it’s one of Owen’s best albums, it’s at least a step in the right direction from his last album. With the winds changing direction in Nashville and Owen already capturing two hits from this album, I’d say there’s certainly still a place for him.