Jake Owen – Barefoot Blue Jean Night

After scoring a pair of hits from each of his first two albums, Jake Owen took a different approach with Barefoot Blue Jean Night. He worked with both Joey Moi and Tony Brown to craft the record. Does the approach work or fail?

The title track is the kind of song that just has a feel-good sound to it — maybe there’s really not too much to say other than “we’re having fun in the summer,” but does a summer anthem really need to say more? Really, it’s the kind of song that just needs a catchy chorus and a strong vocalist to turn into a prime summertime ear-worm, which is exactly what’s happened. Oh yeah, and writerly details like “We were shining like lighters in the dark in the middle of a rock show” don’t hurt, either. “Settin’ the World on Fire,” much later on the same album, is an equally clear-eyed look back at the burning desires of young love, using plenty of clear road metaphors and similes to get its point across in a soaring, anthemic chorus. (Bonus points for the Kerouac shout-out; has anyone else done that besides Suzy Bogguss?) 

“Anywhere with You” kicks off the album with a wall of loud guitars and another rock-solid take on a familiar theme. Not unlike Rockie Lynne’s “Lipstick,” it’s a tuneful little number encouraging his girl to take a trip with him. Anywhere, he doesn’t care, as long as she’s with him. It’s possible that they’re headed for “Heaven,” which according to him, is just a nice little house on a hill. “I can take you on a trip to Heaven / And have you back by tonight,” he sings, clearly smiling. Set after four straight up-tempos, this clever number is much like the respite that it promises. And maybe that same girl whom he wants to take to Heaven is the one keeping him awake and staring at the ceiling in the “Wide Awake.” Any of these three would make fine singles, although I think “Anywhere with You” gets the edge as it’s just a little bit tighter written. 

Not unlike “Hillbilly Bone” or “Country Must Be Country Wide,” “Keepin’ It Country” twists the “I’m country” theme around by celebrating the fact that you don’t have to be a Southerner to enjoy country — it’s the same ol’ stars and stripes, the same ol’ music, no matter where you go. It’s more of a list song than the narrative of those two songs, but it’s no less convincing of an argument. Speaking of familiar themes, “Apple Pie Moonshine” (a sonic cousin to “Big Green Tractor”) its a very melodic, charming tale about a country boy, a sweet girl and equally sweet moonshine. Again, it’s a song that’s been done before, but in no way is that a knock against it — in fact, the off-kilter title alone is enough to catch your attention (as it did mine!) while the rest of the song catches you off-guard with its effortless charm. 

Seven tracks in, you’ll find what is only the second ballad, “The Journey of Your Life.” Again, old men have given advice in countless country songs, but how often has it been as conversational and true as “You’ll need some good luck and a Bible / Especially a Bible” or best of all, “I’ll be the angel flying by your side”? Sure, the melody is a little monotonous, but the wonderful lyrics more than make up for it. 

And you’d think that a song titled “Alone with You” would feel redundant when we’ve already had “Anywhere with You.” But think again. The former is just the opposite of the latter. She doesn’t pay much attention to him anymore, to the point that he’s telling her, “Don’t say it doesn’t matter, ’cause it’s gonna matter to me / I can’t be alone with you.” Its dark, stuttering melody and extra-long chorus bring to mind Kenny Chesney’s “Somewhere with You,” which is high praise in my book. 

Hammond organ and hot, meaty guitar riffs combine to form the raucous party anthem “Nobody Feelin’ No Pain.” Once again, this is a song that improves massively on its commonplace theme by adding some details like Holidome (remember those? Holiday Inn gave up on those ages ago), busted speakers on alarm clock radios and angry motel clerks, not to mention an interesting spoken-word bridge about filling the bathtub with ice and as much liquid refreshment as you can find. Gotta love a party song that goes the extra mile. 

“The One That Got Away” is the album’s coda. It keeps the tempo and volume of the previous song and the observational-yet-wistful nature of the title track to reminisce about a former fling who, well, got away. He remembers a lot of summery events, like writing their names in the sand and watching Fourth of July fireworks. I’m a sucker for this kind of song, so I like it on so many levels, but I’m sure I’m not alone. 

Barefoot Blue Jean Night does everything right. It ties several themes together and finds them crossing over into other songs without feeling like rehashes. “Barefoot” itself sets the tone: summer, parties, girls, a little looking back and a little looking ahead. Every single song is written to its fullest and sung to its fullest. The production, while very loud, is never overdone — it’s just a reminder that Owen has a little (okay, a lot) of rocker in him. I thoroughly enjoyed every single song both lyrically and sonically. Jake has truly put out an album that he should be proud of. It’s given him his biggest hit to date, and it should easily give him a few more smashes to rival the success of its title track.

Listen to long samples of each track by clicking here!

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