Since his first album in 2006, Jake Owens has struggled to separate himself from the deluge of good-time male rockers to emerge in country music in recent years. His fourth album, "Days Of Gold," continues his streak of inconsistency, blending effective slice-of-life songs with generic tunes about partying and drinking.
As a vocalist, Owen displays more nuance and power than in the past. The problem is that some of his best performances come on songs steeped in contemporary Nashville cliches.
The high alcohol content "Tall Glass of Something" makes rhymes out of names of popular cocktails and sugary shooters, wasting a distinctively fun arrangement by producer Joey Moi.
Similarly, "1972" fills its lyrics with names of classic rock acts and hit songs from 40 years ago.
Owen shows he can find songs that occasionally step away from the bar: He instills desperation and tension into "One Little Kiss (Never Killed Nobody)" and "Drivin' All Night." Unlike the party tunes, these songs include consequences to his actions and suggest Owen might distinguish himself by going in a different direction than most of his peers.
Garth Brooks offers fans a Christmas gift with a discount-priced box set that takes another look back rather than moving forward.
"Blame It All On My Roots" is a massive, eight-disc package. Four CDs are devoted to the Oklahoman covering classic songs from country, rock, soul and acoustic singer-songwriters. Two CDs are a previously available greatest-hits double disc set and two DVDs present a recorded concert in Las Vegas and most of his old music videos.
The covers lean heavy on songs nearly every listener will know, giving it a Garth-does-karaoke feel. "Heard It Through The Grapevine," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Great Balls Of Fire" and "Mrs. Robinson" are among the choices, songs still heard across America daily on the radio. There's not a song among the 40 new cuts that presents a lesser-known song important to Brooks.
As would be expected, Brooks connects best with the country covers: His version of Hank Williams' "Jambalaya" and a duet with wife Trisha Yearwood on "After The Fire Is Gone" deserve airplay.
On the other hand, the soul songs suffer from canned arrangements and from Brooks straining to bring Wilson Pickett-style growls and grunts to vocals that are otherwise serviceable, but never remarkable. The Nashville studio musicians do better at injecting life into classic rock and the songwriter albums, staying exceedingly faithful to the originals.
Brooks' fans, a faithful bunch, will enjoy hearing their hero sing these familiar songs. But will it bring him any new fans, expand his audience or help him find new glory more than a decade after his retirement? That will have to wait for his return to recording original material.
By Michael McCall, Associated Press