Black Music Matters Festival

Gary Allan

Smoke Rings in the Dark – 1999 (MCA)

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

CDs by Gary Allan

West Coast honky tonker Gary Allan may have switched labels, but that's about all that's new on his third CD. And that's great news for meat-and-potatoes country fans. He keeps it spare and often sad throughout. Heck, there may not be a more solemn tearjerker this year than "Don't Tell Mama," the lament of a truck driver whose fear as he lays dying is that his mama will learn he's been drinking.

The real star here is Allan's voice , as dramatic as ever. His slight whine infuses the requisite emotion each song cries for often with a '50's feel.

And there's a lot of crying going on here from the haunting title track to the ballad "Bourbon Borderline" to " "Cowboy Blues."

You might question whether we really need another version of "Runaway." Allan is smart enough to know that you can't merely do a rehash. He doesn't on his rootsy version with his voice making you feel the "pain" and "misery," making the song sound as fresh almost four decades later. His bandmate Jake Kelly throws in the tasty guitar licks. And he is not the only musician who shines. Allan used a combo of his band and session folks like Dan Dugmore and Brent Rowan. Fortunately, it's not a paint by the numbers affair.

And further credit goes to producers Tony Brown and Mark Wright, who don't recreate Allan. Instead, they let him do what he does best - sing country music.