At this point, it goes without saying that reality TV singing competitions are circumspect at best at actually helping performers launch careers, while they often constitute a burden on artists in the country and roots realm with the way the symbolize a cutting in line in front of more seasoned performers as opposed to putting in hours and paying dues.
Music is not a skills competition. The intangibles are so imperative to who makes it, and who doesn’t. There is a magic to music that you just can’t teach or learn. So when Jake Worthington became the runner up of Season 6 of The Voice in 2014, it really didn’t have any implications on the country world, despite the young man singing Keith Whitley, Waylon Jennings, and Hank Jr. songs on the way through the show.
Bright-eyed, fresh-faced and pudgy, for Jake Worthington to actually become something in country music, he was going to need something more than a good showing on The Voice. He was going to need a little life behind that voice. He needed to lose in life instead of win. In 2015 and 2017, Worthington released 5-song EPs, and just like during his time on The Voice, it was promising to see him hold to his traditional country principles when the pop realm had to be so enticing. You would also see Worthington’s name here and there in Texas in the fine print of festival posters or other events.
But now it’s 2023, almost 10 years since that fresh-faced Texas-native took the stage to sing Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes” for his audition. His face is more taut, his songs are his own, and there isn’t just a great voice behind them, there is life too. Whether it was from wisdom or circumstance, Jake Worthington waiting to release his debut album until right here and right now was a fortuitous bounce. If he’d done this seven years ago, it would have passed like a burp in the wind. He wasn’t ready for it, and the world wasn’t ready for him. Now it is.
If you want to hear true traditional country in its most pure form in 2023, listen to Jake Worthington. We’re talking Mark Chesnutt, Daryle Singletary country, where you can’t fit an index card between the true definition of “country music,” and what Worthington turns in here. It’s so country, it’s almost as shocking as it is welcome, especially when you consider the circumstances of how it came together.
This self-titled album was released on Big Loud Records—the home of Morgan Wallen and HARDY. Those who were worried when Charles Wesley Godwin recently signed to Big Loud, they should spin this album, and their concerns will cease. Even more surprising, Big Loud part-owner and principal producer Joey Moi actually produced this album as well. He’s the man not just behind Morgan Wallen, but Florida Georgia Line, and butt rockers Nickelback before them.
But again, you would have no indication listening to this self-titled debut that Music Row has anything to do with it. Steel guitar, half-time beats, and songs of heartache are all you hear, with no wiggle room in that assessment for 13 songs. Just like with The Voice, Jake Worthington went behind enemy lines, stuck to his principles, and did what he wanted to do, which is make country music the right way.
This is a heartbreak and drinking album, as most traditional country albums are. That also is going to come with some clichés. “Single At The Same Time” and the opposite day approach of “Ain’t Got You To Hold” have been done numerous times before. But these songs are so country, you don’t really care. The opening song “State You Left Me In” and “Night Time Is My Time” are a bit more original and clever. Worthington co-writes 12 of the 13 songs, with the only exception being “Pop Goes The Whiskey” sung with fellow Big Loud signee Ernest, who also surprised a lot of folks with how traditional the new deluxe edition of his Flower Shops album is.
The time for traditional country is right now. Big mainstream Music Row record labels like Big Loud, producers such as Joey Moi, and performers like Ernest all getting in on the game tells you all you need to know. It also tells you they think this is where the future of country music is headed. Jake Worthington wasn’t ready for the big time in country music when he won The Voice, and country music wasn’t ready for him either. Now, the stars have aligned, and the timing is perfect.
1 3/4 Guns Up (8/10)
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