Jake Owen: Rising country star has no rookie about him

by Alison Bonaguro

Special to the Tribune

Published December 4, 2009


Jake Owen just bought a record player, so he's been listening to a lot of vinyl lately. Willie Nelson, Vern Gosdin, Waylon Jennings. And that's how you know that his kind of country is going to have deeper roots than most.

Sure, he's relevant enough to Twitter about "moving his hips like yeah" because he has a Miley Cyrus song stuck in his head. And he looks the part of just another pretty boy who is much too young to know anything about life's ups and downs. But the reality of Jake Owen is that the guy can write, play and sing songs as if he were the last genuine country man on Earth.

Fresh off his latest BMI Songwriter Award for "Don't Think I Can't Love You," his 2009 Academy of Country Music award for new male artist and a recent gig at the Grand Ole Opry, Owen knows just what he's going to do when he gets to Joe's Bar on Friday.

"I go to shows all the time. Especially at places like Joe's Bar. I like watching how other people can really entertain a small club crowd like that, so I have learned a lot from them" Owen said. "Sometimes, you know, it's just cool to be a spectator and take it in."

So expect the unexpected. Don't expect a show where the band's just going through the motions, or one where a rookie is just getting his sea legs. And don't expect the full-on lunacy of a Kenny Chesney or Rascal Flatts arena show, either. Owen's shows have more spontaneity and swagger, and less drama and polish.

What you will hear is one of the most underappreciated voices in country music. A husky, rich baritone that seems to suit the lyrics he writes. If he's singing his current hit, "Eight Second Ride," you'll hear confidence. If he's breaking out the rural celebration of "Yee Haw," you'll hear his wild side. On "Startin' With Me," you'll hear introspection.

While Owen does his share of early-evening opening slots, headlining gives him room to explore more music, such as the hits the crowd expects, a few unreleased songs off his first two albums and even a few new ones he's still putting the finishing touches on. But this won't be a quiet-listening theater show. It will be an elbow-to-elbow, standing-room-only, late-night crowd.

And with his recent string of awards, Owen could be on the verge of putting little honky tonks behind him. (Not that he wants to, but sometimes country music has an "up or out" attitude about rising stars.) After last month's BMI Songwriter's Award Gala in Nashville, Owen said, "It was pretty neat to have my song be honored as one of most performed songs of year. You walk up to get the award, and you look around and see Kris Kristofferson and Keith Urban clapping for you, and it finally feels like you're included in their world."

Owen describes his music as "not overdone or overthought." "Whether it's perfect or not, it's who I am," he says.

And who he is is a singer with a soulful voice that Nelson, Jennings and the late Gosdin would be proud to have inspired. onthetown@tribune.com

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