If you were to scientifically engineer a modern male country star, you might come up with Jake Owen. He’s got the stubble-laden dimples, the easy grin, the longish, slightly tousled hair, the pleasant, Southern-accented baritone, and the obligatory one-syllable first name and two-syllable last name.
Most importantly, he’s got the smarts to know the country radio pipeline requires a lot of breezy, feel-good summer anthems from its hunks. Owen delivered one of those in a big way with “Barefoot Blue Jean Night,” a single that’s sold 801,000 downloads prior to the release of the new album that bears the same name.
Virtually everything about the collection is designed to present an idyllic view of country life, in and out of summertime, starting with the photos of Owen sitting by a campfire and water skiing on the album artwork. In the title track, he’s taking girls, guitars, and cold beer down a country back road for a moonlit riverside frolic. In “Apple Pie Moonshine,” he’s also picked up his date in a pickup and they’re “dancin’ around in the high beams.”
The titular location of “Heaven” turns out to be a hilltop lovers’ lane outside of town where, “when the sun goes down, time stands still.” In “Nobody Feelin’ No Pain,” the album’s hardest-rocking number, a middle-of-the-night motel room party has “all those Daisy Duke country girls dancin’ on the king-size bed.”
Suffice it to say that there will be no references here to the bad economy, broken homes, or chiggers.
Owen doesn’t pen his own material (with one co-writing exception), so the album’s 11 songs involve teams of two or three of Music Row’s name songwriters digging through their youthful memories for new ways to idealize passions and flirtations idealized or imagined on back roads and river banks. None of those tunesmiths are inspired to do their best work here – not when the choruses revolve around written-in-their-sleep clichés like “Lookin’ around it’s good to see/Everybody keepin’ it county” or “Just you and me, girl, settin’ the world on fire.”
The opening “Anywhere With You” professes faith that the singer would be equally happy with his girl in Mexico, California, Idaho or “a double-wide trailer.” The second tune, “Keepin’ It Country,” name checks Georgia, Texas, West Virginia, St. Paul, Nashville, Jackson Hole, Telluride and Santa Rosa as among the places where country is being kept. For these first couple of numbers, it sounds as if Owen might have missed his calling as a cartographer.
Eventually, things get more personal. But even “The Journey of Your Life,” a ballad in which Owen remembers the advice given by a dying grandpa, turns out to be a “list song,” too, with a stream of random platitudes like “Well, get a good square and keep it level/ have grace to face the devil.” The wisened grandfather never gets around to extolling the value of pickup trucks and beer as bait for girls in their daisy dukes, but that’s probably understood.
“Barefoot Blue Jean Night” is hardly a terrible album, but its elevation of the ordinary finally comes off as … ordinary. If you’re not already inclined to fall into his dimples, its chief inspirational quality may be to inspire you to check the upcoming releases schedule to see when that Dierks Bentley album is finally going to come out.