Black Music Matters Festival

Gary Allan

Tough All Over – 2005 (MCA Nashville)

Reviewed by T.J. Simon

See it on Amazon

CDs by Gary Allan

To fully grasp this latest release from Gary Allan, the songs must be viewed through the prism of his wife's tragic suicide earlier this year. Both the title track and the ballad "Best I Ever Had" detail the aching catharsis of a man trying to sort out the details of this loss. Commendably, Allan is able to do this without sacrificing memorable hooks and outstanding country songcraft.

Although he is not a retro-artist, Allan clearly has a good handle on American music history. "Ring Ring" displays clear influences from Roy Orbison, and a hint of Buck Owens shines through on "Puttin' Memories Away." Moreover, "He Can't Quit Her" is an addictive ode to compulsions of all stripes, and the ballad "Life Ain't Always Beautiful" is about as good as they come. The weight of these numbers is intensified when put into the context of Allan's family tragedy.

Allan consistently combines classic Bakersfield country with modern pop sensibility to exhibit much of what is good in music today, and this album proves him to be an artist worthy of his considerable following.