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Dealing with life's dark side

November 06, 2005|Randy Lewis

Gary Allan

"Tough All Over" (MCA Nashville)

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NOBODY would fault this onetime Huntington Beach surfer dude if he'd drawn the title for his sixth album from one of his own songs, "I Just Got Back From Hell," instead of from the more politely titled leadoff track by Odie Blackmon and Jim Lauderdale.

It's Allan's first album since his wife committed suicide a year ago, leaving him the dazed and confused widowed father of a Brady bunch of six kids from both of their previous marriages.

Where Allan previously struck country gold with Nashville feel-good material such as "Alright Guy," this time he dives fully into life's dark side in search of a glimmer of light.

The result is his most consistently involving collection, combining four songs he wrote or co-wrote with eight more selected largely for their views into how people survive staggering losses, whether the loss is by choice or happenstance.

Allan poses the unanswerable "Why?" of his own loss in "I Just Got Back ..." and offers a wistful goodbye to the one he loves in his version of Vertical Horizon's "Best I Ever Had," avoiding the potential syrupiness of that lyric with a craggy, sugar-free vocal.

He lightens things up -- "light" being a relative term here -- in "Ring," a winsome parting song by veteran Nashville writer Kostas that looks at a breakup from the jewelry's point of view. And he has the makings of an anthem in Cyndi Goodman and Tommy Lee James' "Life Ain't Always Beautiful," a bit of pop philosophy that doesn't make light of the darkness everyone experiences sooner or later.

The spare, raw production (by Allan and Mark Wright) is filled with twangy, echoing guitars, helping these songs stand out from the homogeneous Nashville sound, making it as close to an alt-country sounding record as you could expect for one that recently debuted atop the country chart and at No. 3 on the overall pop album list.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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