Jake Owen, ‘Barefoot Blue Jean Night’ – Album Review
Some time ago, Jake Owen was pitched 'Big Green Tractor' and wisely turned it down. The song went on to be a big hit for Jason Aldean, but Owen told Taste of Country he knew his version would be disingenuous. The 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night' singer grew up on the beach in Florida and never farmed a day in his life. His new album -- in stores and available for purchase online today, August 30 -- brings fans closer to his true personality, but there still seems to be a thin, leathery skin around his heart.
Owen is growing as a songwriter and musician. For this album he set aside all but one of the songs he penned in favor of 10 written by seasoned Nashville songwriters. By swallowing his pride, he's found tighter, sharper songs than any that have filled his albums thus far. However, the early efforts don't always feel sincere.
'Anywhere With You' is a perfect example. It's catchy and imaginative, yet it doesn't feel like Owen has a specific person in mind as he sings. The next two songs suffer similarly, with 'Keepin' It Country' being one he should have reconsidered for the same reason he passed on 'Big Green Tractor.'
From there, 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night' picks up. The single becomes more contagious with each listen. 'Heaven' is a piano-driven love song that showcases a voice women can't seem to resist, and 'Apple Pie Moonshine' is a nostalgic love song in the spirit of Deana Carter's 'Strawberry Wine.' While Owen doesn't have the most dynamic voice, he varies his delivery enough to keep each song from like sounding like the last.
'The Journey of Your Life' is the album's high point. The emotional ballad is capable of reaching a thousand people in a thousand different ways, and Owen's understated delivery fits the lyrics like a great pair of blue jeans. "You'll need a hero / And a good dog / Especially a good dog / A hammer and a hand saw / Band-Aid now and then / You'll need a home to / Come home to / Son, we all need a refuge / On the straight and narrow path / You need to learn to bend," he sings during the first chorus. Later he changes "good dog" to "Bible," adding yet another layer to an already powerful story. This is the song that will make fans feel good about purchasing this album.
'Alone With You' is the best of the remaining four songs on 'Barefoot Blue Jean Night.' The mid-tempo love song -- there's no shortage of good loving on this album -- snuggles up nicely behind 'The Journey of Your Life.' Instead of feeling lost after such a big song, it transitions the listener to the remainder of the album. The last three songs don't feel as flat as the first three, but they're certainly not as good as those in the soft and chewy middle section of this modern country album.
Owen is at his best when he holds nothing back and reveals the scars on his soul ('Startin' With Me,' 'Don't Think I Can't Love You' and in a way 'Yee-Haw'). An album full of these types of songs would be dangerously good.