Gary Allan – Get Off on the Pain (MCA Nashville, 2010)
Allan hit his stride with 1999’s Smoke Rings in the Dark, and recorded a series of albums that retained his California twang even as Nashville dug in its fingers. His eighth album still offers some edgy and forceful vocals, but starts out with several tunes whose arrangements of piano, organ, strings and studio drums resound with Nashville’s overbearing contemporary country-rock sound. Allan’s relegated his superior original material to the album’s second-half, opening the album with songs from Music City pros whose work leaves a more calculated impression. The productions on the first few cuts overwhelms Allan’s earthiness, and even the sprightly “That Ain’t Gonna Fly” sounds more like a studio band attempting to rock than a country band actually rocking.
But the mainstream sound fades away when the album reaches Allan’s original material at track six. The intimate details of “We Fly by Night,” co-written with Jamie O’Hara and Odie Blackmon, are given a stately tempo that allows Allan to consider the lyrics and add an echo of Roy Orbison’s drama. Or maybe it’s an echo of Raul Malo, as Dan Dugmore’s steel and gentle notes of vibraphone give this track a compelling sophistication. Allan writes poetically of opening up to opportunities, begging for forgiveness and finding oneself, and the emotion with which he sings his own words is a world away from what he’s able to muster for the album’s stock Nashville compositions. Perhaps his label didn’t trust that Allan’s originals were radio-ready, but his songs are deeper and feel as if they’re born of personal experience rather than someone else’s songwriting appointment.
Thos who liked See If I Care might skip lightly through the first five tracks, as the album’s second half is a twangy and soulful gem worth the wait. The deluxe CD edition adds four bonus cuts: the newly recorded “Long Summer Days,” and live versions of “Right Where I Need to Be,” “Best I Ever Had,” and “Watching Airplanes” that were recorded in front of an enthusiastic audience. The disc (which also unlocks on-line video content) is delivered in a digipack with a 16-panel booklet that includes lyrics to the album’s core ten tracks. Allan is effective in playing both the country mainstream and its rootsier edges, which may leave some fans enjoying one half of this disc more than the other.