Album Review: Jake Worthington – ‘Jake Worthington’

This is an interesting case. You see, Jake Worthington is an artist I’ve had on my radar for years now, a traditionalist who plays to pretty familiar territory in sound, influence, and writing, but who has often provided a likable presence and a more agreeable framework than most of his modern contemporaries.

But while I could be blunt and say that finishing as the runner-up on Season 6 of The Voice in 2014 was never going to act as the launch pad needed to establish a lasting core, in truth, running back through his few earlier EPs just leaves me thinking he debuted at the wrong time. The mid-to-late 2010s especially were a weird period for country music as it struggled with its identity crisis in the aftermath of the bro-country era and ensuing pop-crossover pivots. It’s only in recent years that more traditional country music has started to see more traction within the mainstream. In a way, then, it feels like the right time for Worthington to swing for the fences and try again, with a full, self-titled album to boot.

I’ll be further blunt, then, and say that I’m shocked this album was released by Big Loud Records and produced by Joey Moi, of all people, given that this hits a very sweet spot for neotraditional country in how warm and textured it is across the board, and plays to distinct Mark Chesnutt and Tracy Lawrence territory in a great way. Granted, that’s a twofold statement, given that Worthington’s delivery heavily reminds me of the former artist (with maybe a hint of Eddie Montgomery) in how his smoother tone is appealing on a base level but is also able to pick up hints of rougher texture from his thicker accent.

And that plays well to an album devoid of some of the polish of that era in favor of more rounded tones: the electric guitars have a solid flair and rollick to them, and there’s plenty of bouncy fiddles, piano, and pedal steel to round out the sound. It’s standard fare for what you’d expect with this sort of album, but that’s part of the point, even if it does perhaps blend together at points and feel a bit too conventional from a melodic and compositional standpoint at times. Even still, on tone alone it’s easy to like, especially when it leans toward western-swing for the George Strait-esque “Ain’t Got You to Hold.” And again, he’s got the full-throated command in tone to excel at heartbreak. It’s one reason I enjoyed “State You Left Me In” when I reviewed it, but the windswept piano melody anchoring “Closing Time” provides another highlight.

Of course, while the album begins and ends with heartache, it’s more just a low-key, lighthearted affair overall, and mostly plays to humorous, self-deprecating territory in ways that remind me of Brad Paisley or Luke Combs. With “Single at the Same Time” and the bouncy and melodic “Only One Way to Find Out,” for instance, he plays the role of the guy who knows he’s in over his head but is going to take a shot in the dark at love anyway, and he leans on his good charm and rollick as a performer effectively – ditto for “She Ain’t You.” Where I’m not as convinced is when he tries to play the role of a hellraiser. He’s fine enough opposite ERNEST on “Pop Goes the Whiskey” – perhaps because the added camaderie serves the sentiment well – but not as much on tracks like on “Honky Tonk Crowd” and “Night Time is My Time.” Maybe it’s because they lose that slight detailed flair and feel more basic overall, but I kept wishing for more moments that dug deeper. It’s consistently good but rarely great.

And that does feed into my other nitpick, in that it’s a comfort record that struggles to find a more unique voice at times: “Ain’t Got You to Hold” takes the pretty conventional opposite-day approach in its framing; “Heaven Can’t Be Found” leans way too heavily on the clumsy cliché of women being angels sent from the Lord almighty; and “Without You” is a somewhat oversold and clumsy breakup song. Again, that’s not to say it’s ever bad, just a bit too basic and straightforward, especially when placed against the aforementioned highlights. Even still, it’s a remarkably solid neotraditional counry record with writing and production a good cut above average, and as the next step to his earlier material, this is a refinement in many ways. I’m looking forward to the next one.

  • Favorite tracks: “State You Left Me In,” “Single at the Same Time,” “Pop Goes the Whiskey” (feat. ERNEST), “She Ain’t You,” “Closing Time”
  • Least favorite track: “Heaven Can’t Be Found”

Buy or stream the album.

2 thoughts on “Album Review: Jake Worthington – ‘Jake Worthington’

  1. Hi Zack – this is really solid 90’s-sounding music – very enjoyable! I decided to check this out because of your review and I’m glad I did.

    Liked by 1 person

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