Gary Allan has always been sort of a country weakness for me. My little rocker heart is just hypnotized by him. There's something about his voice and his kinda bad-boy image (which I know, probably is only a persona produced to lead little girls astray from their typical not-so-country music, but I'm just saying the tattoos don't make me like him one bit less).
More than that, though, his songs don't typically fall into the trap of the country cliche that so many artists are drowning in right now. As I mentioned already in my Whiskey Myers post, I hate that 95% of the country songs on the radio now are about being country. Like, really? Don't dumb down your music for your audience. We get that you're country. That's kind of a given. I'm ok with songs about your wife leaving, dog dying, whiskey bottle being empty. That's apparently a staple of the country life and I get that. But don't just tell me about a country girl who you would like to shake it for you, or try to explain what country is to you. It was nice idea the first ten times it was done, but it's over now. Let's move on.
On his new release, Set You Free, Allan stays on my good side, with not one song containing the word 'country' in the title or theme. But, overall, my first listen didn't leave me head over heels with this album. I listened to it again, because I really wanted to love it. It was then that I realized the only songs I liked were the ridiculously sad ones, and there weren't very many. Which led to my conclusion: I do not like it when Gary Allan is happy.
I know, that makes me a terrible person. Poor little Gary has had a pretty tough life, especially in the wife department. Wishing for more misery in hopes that it produces depressing songs is really not something I want to do to him. But he just does those songs so damn well! The saddest, deepest songs are the ones that I love the most by not only him but any artist (and I sense this has some deep psychological implications that I choose not to address at the moment).
Maybe I should phrase it differently: I don't like it when he sings songs that are happy. I know he doesn't write all his songs, and it turns out that most of the super sad ones on the album weren't written by him. So go ahead, I give you permission to be happy. Just keep enough of that misery reserved to belt out those sad songs with a sufficient amount of emotion to make them feel real. Thank ya lots, Gary.
After reaching that compromise, I tried it one more time, and it turns out that the few songs on the album that are the "she left me, my heart is broken, time to drink your memory away" kind are pretty amazing. Like have been on a repeating loop for the last hour or so kind of amazing.
Because the album just came out yesterday, most of the songs don't have YouTube videos yet, so if you use Spotify then you can stream the songs from this post using this playlist:
Gary Allan-- Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)
I could have bet my roommate's dog that I already made a post on this one, but I can't find it if I did. And even if I did, I love it enough to post it again. I bought this song after I heard it the first time on the radio and have had it in pretty steady play ever since. Though it falls more into the 'getting over it' phase of the sad song evolution, it has just enough tug on the heart to make it one of my favorite songs on the album, as well as country radio right now.
Gary Allan--It Ain't the Whiskey
Just so terribly depressing. Everything about it. In the album version, the sounds of the steel and organ just about break your heart. And I love it. I would have chosen that version to feature, but no avid fans have made a video using it yet. I highly recommend you check it out, but this live acoustic version should be more than enough to hold you over and convince you to hear the real thing.
A couple others worth mentioning: "Hungover Heart" and "Sand in my Soul," aka how being left by a woman affects various body parts. "You Without Me" is also worth a listen.
Allan goes a little Kenny Chesney/ barefoot on a beach with "No Worries." I do think he does this better than Chesney, though, bringing in a reggae vibe that definitely make me wish I was in a warmer place (because I am NOT made for this cold. Probability of me going outside is looking like it may stay at "not a chance in hell" level). On "Drop" he gets way jazzy, like coffee shop/wine bar/snaps instead of claps. It's not terrible, but once again, it doesn't make me cry so I don't love it.
Overall, when I leave out the happy songs, I do love Set You Free. It is the kind of country that I'm not ashamed to admit to liking. I don't want to go so far as to say that Allan is the "real deal" country, because I honestly don't know where that line lies now that I have been exposed to this whole new world of underground/outlaw country music that I never really knew existed until I ran off with a band that falls into that genre. I certainty don't want to discount what he is doing just because his music is played on modern country radio. I feel like it would be complete lies for any artist to say that what they aim for isn't that kind of success. I have seen firsthand what it's like to be a struggling band, giving every bit of your heart, soul and money to pursue your dreams. Up and coming musicians don't do it to play to half-empty restaurants. Gaining a following large enough to support a lifestyle better than what you started with has to be an end goal, otherwise there is no way in hell you can stay sane enough to keep pushing forward.
What I do know is Gary Allan is doing something that is different enough to, in my humble opinion, set him apart and make him closer to real than most of the other guys on the radio today. His songs make me feel, and if you're listening to music, I mean really listening and absorbing and taking in songs for any other reason, then you should probably put on some Taylor Swift and read another music blog.