Gary Allan has built his career by being a commercially successful yet left-of-centre country artist, and as the genre recovers from an unpleasant onslaught of plastic, homogenised performers more associated with image and stylists than with the importance of good songs, it’s refreshing to see someone with his roots still intact.
Believe it or not, Allan is a surf-crazy Californian, but don’t mistake him for a charlatan with a good voice who merely looks good in a Stetson. His simple liner note dedications to “Willie, Waylon, Johnny, George, Buck and Merle” make the depth of his influences abundantly clear, and the detachment he achieves as a result of not being typically “Nashville” allows him to interpret the songs he occasionally co-writes in interesting and individual ways.
Alright Guy is Allan’s fourth release and the mix of tunes in evidence should appeal to both hardcore and casual country fans desperate to find a release from the glut of formulaic artists that currently litter the Nashville musical landscape. The opening track, “Man to Man”, is uptempo enough to do just that, and Allan’s distinctive voice smoulders impressively throughout, before switching gear to the more restrained and edgy “Devil’s Candy”, which just about gets away with rehashing one or two clichés.
Allan is certainly not afraid to mix up his generally rootsy sound with the odd bit of full on country-rock as he proves on the rip-roaring first single “Man of Me”, a song bursting at the seams with energy and impact. The versatility of Allan’s voice becomes even more apparent on the next track, the extremely laid-back swing of “Adobe Walls”.
As you would expect, Alright Guy is not without a sprinkling of ballads, although the B3-infused “What I’d Say” is certainly a pleasant surprise, as is “The One”, which borders on the wrong side of soppy, but retains enough character through Allan’s marvellously expressive voice to get away with it.
But the album’s standout tracks are easily the charming, humorous and instantly memorable title track, and the bouncy “I’m Doin’ My Best”. The former, a Todd Snider composition, rebels against every conservative country cliché in the book, making liberal reference to pornography, drugs and insulting police officers, whilst the narrator of the song claims he is misunderstood in-between lambasting the “dumb hicks” he shares a cell with. The latter follows a similar path of recounting a trail of debauchery, and it’s refreshing to see a few chances being taken in terms of song selection.
The album closes with the retreat to the more classic sound Allan repeatedly makes reference to in his live shows with his take on “What Would Willie Do”, and unlike a lot of recent country albums I could name, it’s a genuine shame that the proceedings come to a close.
Allan will clearly win over the affections of plenty of disenfranchised country fans with such an eclectic and diverse collection of songs. For a performer whose approach is heavily influenced by tradition together with a real individualism, it’s clear that as his album insists, Gary Allan is indeed an Alright Guy.
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// Notes from the Road
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