Thu, Dec 05, 2013 - Page 11 News List

CD reviews

Life, Love & Hope, by Boston; What the ...?, by Black Flag; Days of Gold, by Jake Owen.

By Ben Ratliff and Nate Chinen  /  NY Times News Service

Like the Boston record, What the ...? includes songs that seem like sketches: Now Is the Time, This Is Hell, The Bitter End, Outside, Give Me All Your Dough. As with the Boston record, even as the band’s central force pumps away front and center, you find yourself admiring the singing — Reyes works his petulant bellow hard, despite boilerplate-cynicism lyrics — and recalling how good Black Flag’s drummers were before this one. And it can make you think about how a band may need a driver and a controller and an obsessive, but how necessary and miraculous it can be when that person yields power to others. Reyes, in an announcement on his Facebook page last week, wrote that he was fired onstage during a Black Flag show in Australia on Nov. 24. You wonder whether, even as Black Flag, Ginn needs anybody else; with music at this low level of inspiration, machines would take care of whatever he can’t generate himself.


Days of Gold, by Jake Owen, RCA Nashville

Life’s a beach — an endless blur of them, really — on Days of Gold, the fourth album by the affable country rogue Jake Owen. And it’s clear that we should have seen this coming. Last year around this time, Owen released an EP, Endless Summer (RCA Nashville), that included a mildly suggestive come-on (Summer Jam) and a set of instructions (Pass a Beer). Turns out that was just the warm-up.

Owen, 32, grew up in Vero Beach, Florida, so this is his native habitat. Some of the songs on Days of Gold, notably the summer-bliss title track, hail surf and sand as a beau ideal, a state of mind. Elsewhere, things get a lot more literal: Beachin’, with its dismal, rapped verses and raise-your-cup chorus, or Drivin’ All Night, which begins with what might be this album’s emblematic setup:

There wasn’t nothing as pretty in Panama City as you

That’s what I took away from that spring break that year

And there wasn’t no shortcut down to LSU

But it wasn’t like it was hard talking me into

In case this isn’t obvious enough, inebriation and seduction intertwine to form Owen’s other major theme here. The word “tipsy” forms a pivot point in one song, and the title of another. And in Tall Glass of Something, he grouses, “Ain’t no beaches ‘round here,” using that as an excuse for more carousing.

Strikingly, Owen had no hand in writing any of these songs: About half the album’s tracks bear a credit by Jaren Johnston, and others bear the fingerprints of first-call Nashville songwriters like Dallas Davidson, Ashley Gorley and Shane McAnally. Their best efforts home in on Owen’s capacity for open heartache, epitomized by the ballads on his previous album, like The One That Got Away and Alone With You.

What are the keepers? For starters, Life of the Party, a solid new entry in the putting-on-a-good-face subcategory of heartbroken country songs, and One Little Kiss (Never Killed Nobody), which feels like a worthy sequel to Alone With You, another that contemplates stirring the embers of a dead romance. “Thought I’d be fine to see you one more time,” Owen sings. “Yeah, right.”

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