Heartbreak can often be the impetus for an artist’s creative breakthrough or a return to their roots. For Jake Owen, his divorce from his wife of 3 years last summer propelled him to re-examine his songwriting craft and music-making in immeasurable ways. That’s where American Love comes in — the singer’s fifth studio album is framed around intoxicating romance, youthful excursions to the beach and a longing to be happy (with a few visceral and wholly emotional arrows tossed in for good measure). Life isn’t without its devastation, loss or self-pity, and Owen makes damn sure to include all those avenues of pain, even chronicling those times you seek out late-night hookups or tailgate parties to wash away the tears. The 11-track collection reads mostly as a fun summer album, but there’s plenty of heart and soul underneath the beach-toned abs, frizzled hair cut and ice cold beer to dig in and enjoy.
Led with the sweeping mid-tempo “American Country Love Song,” in which Owen reminisces about those intimate moments of closeness and connection, the LP unravels a sequence of images most related to young love through songs like the groovy “VW Van” romper (complete with harmonica sizzle), the giddy “Good Company” and the “After Midnight” escapade — it’s a sultry number knit with an R&B slink and Owen’s admission that “nothing good ever happens after midnight, maybe midnight is just misunderstood.”
Perhaps Owen’s finest moments come with the burning “When You Love Someone” piano stunner — a particular deep cut which pierces the heart and leaves you breathless — and “Where I Am,” a stomping track in which he confesses his adoration of another and lets her know he’ll be there whenever she needs him. “LAX” and “Everybody Dies Young” are also sterling examples of offering thoughtful, engaging narratives with the brush of commercial, polished appeal. He’s not necessarily following a script, but he is certainly letting everybody know he can compete with the big dogs.
If American Love is any indication, Owen has clearly found a groove worth paying attention to. As he balances the trapeze between artistic integrity and chart viability, the country singer has discovered an admirable formula for tapping into both worlds. Now, maybe his next heartbreak will take it all to the next level.