Lost in the shuffle of the dance beats and screaming guitars of today's country music is the simplicity that made country music what it is. Some of the best songs in history are understated, sparse, and honest. No frills, no artsy metaphors, no grandiose production. Just an artist with something to say, straightforward and to the heart. "I Walk The Line", "Crazy", and "Stay" are just a few in the long line of great songs that are simple and heartfelt. "What We Ain't Got" by Jake Owen is the latest, but it faces the toughest challenge. This song comes in an era where loud and proud is the name of the game, and sad and simple just doesn't sell. Jake Owen has guts to get this song out there, but I think he will be rewarded with a lot of hardware at the CMA and ACM awards. "What We Ain't Got" is country music at it's very best.
There isn't much to this song. The production is as sparse as can be. Jake's killer baritone, a little steel guitar and fiddle, some backing vocals and a piano. That's it. The haunting melody that this song makes is enough to make you stop in your tracks and listen. This is what country music used to do: tug at your emotions and make you feel something. The production adds enough to keep the melody flowing, but is minimal to the point where the lyrics are the focus of the song. And the lyrics are something great to focus on. Travis Jerome Goff and Travis Meadows have written a tender ballad that really captures the emotion of someone longing for their love. Jake delivers it with power when needed and a soft falsetto when needed. A lesser singer would have had a decent song on their hands with this, but Jake has a crystal clear voice and gives the vocal performance of his life to take this song from a pretty good song to a absolute great song.
The best part about this song is the passion Jake has for it. He went to bat for this song from the day his latest album, Days of Gold, came out. He has been a strong vocal proponent of songs with more depth and meaning on country radio. Sure, he has his "Beachin'" and "Barefoot Blue Jean Night", but he also has "Don't Think I Can't Love You", "Alone with You", "Tell Me", and "Startin' With Me", some of the best mainstream country songs of the past decade. Jake supports real music as well. He recently gave big boost to traditional country singer Tony Martinez by giving him an opening slot on his tour after hearing him in a bar, and he used word of mouth to turn Keith Urban on to Sturgill Simpson. He is also a class act with his fans, as he frequently interacts on Twitter with them. He sings them acoustic cover requests through YouTube, hangs out on their boats, gives away tickets, and makes personal phone calls. Jake is the real deal. He has fun songs for the pop fans, meaningful songs for the traditional fans, and everything in between.
If the world is a just place, Jake Owen will be hoisting up some serious hardware this year. "What We Ain't Got" is easily the best mainstream song of the year, and should be seeing multiple weeks at number one, followed by Song and Single of the Year nominations (and wins) at the CMA and ACM Awards. But, even if that doesn't happen, Jake has earned my respect. He found a song he believed in and released it against the odds. Good for you Jake. "What We Ain't Got" is an absolute masterpiece of a song, and a shining example of what country music is all about.