I swear, Jake Owen could figure out a way to fuck up making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich these days. After besmirching the legacy of John Cougar Mellencamp’s Heartland anthem “Jack & Diane” by turning it into a talk-singing post-Bro underwear skid mark of a misguided remix, now Mr. Bronzer has decided he wants to attempt to absolve all his country music trespasses by trying to pass off his latest monstrosity as a traditional throwback honky tonk song.
Yeah sorry, but I don’t remember Waylon starting his tunes off with what sounds like bad white boy beat boxing, or running his vocal signals through Antares Auto-tune. Oh, so the caricature version of a redneck that Jake Owen portrays in “Down To The Honky Tonk” names his dog Waylon, and there’s Outlaw-era phase guitar in the mix. Well damn, move over Cody Jinks, there’s a new hardcore honky tonker in town.
The very mild and misappropriated traditional country moments in “Down To The Honky Tonk” are not what make this song appealing or even redeemable to true country fans, it’s what’s wrong with it. Jake Owen as a Kenny Chesney beach bum knockoff or a Florida Georgia Line pilot fish feeding off leftover Bro-Country scraps and hovering barely on the periphery of popularity is a harmless specimen not worth trifling with. However trying to jump on some misguided honky tonk resurgence by name-dropping Waylon makes Jake Owen a focus of ire. Trust me, Waylon wouldn’t approve being associated with this song, especially reincarnated as a canine.
The whole premise of “Down To The Honky Tonk” is a dud. Between checklist lyrics (back road√, boat√, beer√, tequila√, country legend name drop√, quoting song lyrics√) is this idea that the subject of the song may not be anyone special and “go down in history,” but he’ll “go down to to honky tonk” dammit. Really? That’s the lyrical payoff you’re angling for? That’s your hook? I’d love to see Jake Owen step into some actual honky tonks peddling this weak-ass list-tastic Bro-Country redux and watch his ass get sent down the shuffleboard table head first by a guy wearing a Whitey Morgan “Fuck Pop Country” T-shirt. You want a real honky tonk song? Go listen to Whitey’s “Honky Tonk Hell.”
That brings us to the music of “Down To The Honky Tonk,” which is so derivative and purposely retreaded, even Taste of Country when attempting to dole out praise for the song said, “The opening guitar lick tips a hat to Alabama while the slow, swampy distortion is about as close to ‘Fishin’ in the Dark’ as you can get without bringing about a lawsuit.”
They also said, “Owen avoids any temptation to outsmart his audience lyrically.” Translation? The lyrics are dumb as an anvil, and not surprising since “Down To The Honky Tonk” was written by the unholy trinity of Rodney Clawson, Luke Laird and Shane McAnally.
Look, it is refreshing to see a slow changing of the tide in mainstream country where artists like Blake Shelton, Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, and even Luke Bryan are putting out slightly better, and more country-sounding songs as we try to erase the memory of the Bro-Country era. But don’t dip your toes in the water and attempt to pander in a song that anyone can sniff out is Bro-Country trying to sneak past traditionalists disguised in a trucker hat and overalls. Often when you try and appeal to both worlds, you end up appealing to neither. That should be the fate of “Down To The Honky Tonk,” but we all know if there’s enough of a promotional push behind it, it’ll end up at #1 on the radio anyway.
Jake Owen has done some good song in his day, but when artists become desperate to hold onto their mainstream relevance, that’s when things can get weird and embarrassing. That’s certainly the case with “Down To The Honky Tonk.”