Jake Owen has made no secret of the fact that the last few years of his life have been somewhat turbulent. The singer from Florida has been through a divorce following a three year marriage and made a creative turnaround following the release of the single Real Life. It’d be fair to say that Owen can’t be blamed for buying himself an old surf green VW campervan and taking off to clear his head. Upon his return we were treated to the epic single American Country Love Song and this, his first full length album since 2013’s Days of Gold, American Love.
Before we start looking at the songs I have to mention that this album is produced by one of my favourite people in the music business and a wildly successful songwriter in Shane McAnally. McAnally has already been in the production booth for one of the years best records in Old Dominion’s Meat and Candy so this can only be a good sign.
We kick off with the title track American Love. It’s a laid back song with the typical Owen ‘beachy’ vibe almost carried through from Days of Gold. The other similarity to that is that it’s co-written by The Cadillac Three’s Jaren Johnston. It’s a positive all-American song that eases listeners into the album. With a little bit of studio chatter at the end it’s about as laid back as you could ask for.
We then move on to After Midnight is a slightly more moody song about being young and in love and sneaking out of the house late at night to meet up. It could also be seen as a story of doing the forbidden things that you should with lines like “if nothing good ever happens after midnight, why did it always feel so damn good?”. This song is a quick shift away from the laid back tone of the opening track and definitely shows a more serious side to Owen’s music.
Where I Am is a song that is quickly becoming a favourite of mine. Lyrically it’s all about being there for someone and reassuring them that if they need you then you will be there. I think considering Owen’s changes in his personal life it could be quite a personal song on the album. We all want to know that we have someone there to help us when things get tough. “You know this world can drive you crazy sometimes, Get you all angled up in your mind, Make you wanna just disappear, So when you want to, come over here, I can be the safe that you need, Don’t you know you’re never bothering me?, You never have to wonder if I’m free, I’m free for you”.
Musically things take another turn back towards the laid back beach vibes that we know Owen for on Everybody Dies Young (even though the title doesn’t suggest that this is too positive!). It’s a song about enjoying life to it’s fullest and never being too old to love and have a good time. “It’s not about the amount of years, it’s about the amount of love” sums this song up in a couple of lines.
VW Van is a song which revolves around the central theme of the album and the thing that adorns the cover – Jake’s VW camper van. It keeps the tone from the previous track in that it’s an upbeat and fun song about jumping in the van and heading out on the road to escape it all and have a good time. Owen sings “who wants to ride in my VW van?” – at this point I’m certainly on board.
Next up is Good Company which is a song that you can’t help but smile along to. It’s another very American song about putting some drinks in the cooler, a brisket on the BBQ and spending time with friends. Definitely a feel good song for the summer with a great funky guitar riff on top.
LAX is the one song on the album which is co-written by Owen himself. This is perhaps even more telling in that it’s essentially a break up song. It’s a soft and slow acoustic number with very poignant lyrics. In an album that seems to centre around Owen bouncing back from his hard times and appreciating life this is a rare tender moment that sees him reflect a little more. “Please hold tight to my California honey, Make her famous with lots of money, And tell her I wish her all the best, Oh, my LAX” feels like a goodbye and the end of a chapter.
Next up is a track that is co-written by and features one of the hottest properties in country music at the moment in the form of Chris Stapleton. If He Ain’t Gonna Love You has a little more of a rocky edge than some of the songs before it. Stapleton’s vocals add a fantastic power in the background. It’s essentially a song about a woman not being given attention by her man and saying ‘well if he’s not going to treat you right then I will’. It’s smouldering and sexy in parts. This one will surely make it as a single; especially with the power of Stapleton behind it.
Next up is this albums answer to What We Ain’t Got in the form of When You Love Someone. This beautiful piano led ballad takes the tone of the album down to a relaxed pace and Owen’s characteristic Southern twang leads us through. It’s a really pretty song that, again, perhaps serves as a bookend to a part of his life that he’s moving along from. “Whether it’s love or just whiskey, well, we’ve both sobered up” perfectly describes that moment when you realise something isn’t right and you have to call it a day.
You Ain’t Going Nowhere is the penultimate song on the album and it’s another of my favourites. It almost feels like it could be a Tim McGraw cut with it’s rhythmic verses, big chorus and soaring guitar solo. It’s a brilliant feel good upbeat song about moving on that just fills you up with hope and makes you feel like no matter how bad things might feel they aren’t that bad. It perfectly describes that helplessness that you feel when you think you’ve lost someone and that reassurance you feel when you realise that person is here to stay. “Saying you’d never leave, you’ve never been so right, See you in a blue sky, breathe you in the night air, Girl, you’re always right there, you ain’t going nowhere”.
The final track on the album might be my favourite song of 2016 so far in American Country Love Song. I can’t help but feel good listening to this track. To an outsider it may fit all of the clichés of a country music song but in a time where most of the news is bad news there’s something special about listening to a song that sounds this big with it’s lyrics about falling in love, having fun with friends and enjoying life. Great song.
1. American Love
2. After Midnight
3. Where I Am
4. Everybody Dies Young
5. VW Van
6. Good Company
8. If He Ain’t Gonna Love You
9. When You Love Someone
10. You Ain’t Going Nowhere
11. American Country Love Song
For anyone who has listened to and enjoyed 2013’s Days of Gold this album is almost an ‘as you were’ type affair. Stylistically Owen tried to make a big change with Real Life, which clearly didn’t work for him, so he’s gone back to what he knows on American Love. This isn’t a criticism however. The songs on the record are well crafted (when you read the songwriting credits that include Messrs Johnston, McAnally, Stapleton and more this is easy to understand) and are delivered in Owen’s signature style with his signature twang. The likes of You Ain’t Going Nowhere and Where I Am help to give the album depth, American Love and Good Company hit the spot if you’re looking for chilled out songs and American Country Love song gives you the anthem. All in all this is a really strong record from Jake Owen and one that hits perfectly in the middle of summer.
Where I Am, You Ain’t Going Nowhere, American Country Love Song
Six Shooter Rating
8 out of 10