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Jake Owen

American Love – 2016 (RCA Nashville)

Reviewed by Jeff Lincoln

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CDs by Jake Owen

Most everyone has made up their mind on bro-country music. Maybe you love the breezy images of the beach dippin' and sippin' lifestyle, or you write it off as empty headed and repetitive. Either way, Florida native Jake Owen was a torchbearer for the genre, and it's rewarded him well - four albums and five Number One singles (remember "Beachin"?). His career has been on a more-or-less upward arc, with higher-profile tours and bigger hits each time out. But in the fallout of a quickie 2012 marriage (his wife was pregnant with their daughter) and 2015 divorce, Owen has had to press reset. Another album full of love letters to Corona didn't feel right.

The extra effort put into this breakthrough album pays off nicely. The radio is featuring "American Country Love Song," loaded with those modern sing/spoken vocals and chunky power chords. But the subject matter is almost wistful, how we're all looking for our little patch of love in a great big country. There's a similar spirit about what connects us in the best track, "Everybody Dies Young." It has groove, heart, and truth cranked up to 11. Ace songwriter Lori McKenna helps out on the piano ballad "When You Love Someone," helping Owen exorcise a few demons. That leaves him free to do what he does best - celebrating late nights ("After Midnight") and rowdy road trips ("VW Van"). What sets these songs apart is musicianship - the opener, "American Love," for example may not need beat boxing, horns and steel guitar. But it's all the better for it.

Not every track keeps up with the high water marks: "Where I Am" rewords every sentiment from Luke Bryan's "Crash My Party." "You Ain't Going Nowhere" does just that. But this is some of the best work out of the bro country camp to date. Owen is in the wake of some personal struggles, but, as some know, in real life he's a great wakeboarder. Hop in the van and make the trip.