American Love arrives some three years after Days Of Gold, not an exceptionally protracted delay but long enough to suggest there was some behind-the-scenes tinkering afoot, a suspicion supported by the fleet rise and fall of “Real Life”. That single isn’t on American Love but it’s not missed, not with Jake Owen returning to the sunny disposition that marked his big breakthrough, Barefoot Blue Jean Night.
On the whole, American Love isn’t as strident as that 2011 album, a record so gleaming it generated a glare when it hit direct sunlight, but its relative mellowness masquerades a certain slyness in its construction. This album may flow easy but it has some modern tricks: “After Midnight” pulsates to its throwback analogue synths, “Good Company” glides in on a beach breeze, and “If He Ain’t Gonna Love You” bounces along to a disco beat that is barely disguised. These selections, strategically sequenced throughout the record, reveal a livelier, savvier country than the bro country that Jake Owen mined on his earlier records. Make no mistake, he’ll still crank up the amplifiers and turn out arena-filling anthems, but even those tunes contain a slight air of maturity; it’s party music with a bittersweet streak. It’s an appealing blend of moods that he accentuates by modulating his delivery, choosing to lie back instead of lean into the songs, a tactic that gives the lighter moments a melancholy pull and the ballads a bit of grace.
Often, the best moments of American Love are the softest: a sun-bleached slice of regret called “LAX,” the skilful adult contemporary pop of “You Ain’t Going Nowhere,” and the slow churn of “Where I Am,” each of which benefits from Jake’s light touch, which now feels weathered, not boyish. Even so, this light weariness is a grace note to an album that ultimately is about sunlit good times, but it’s enough to give American Love some resonance.