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From the Country Standard Time Archives

For Gary Allan, the covers say a lot about the man

Johnny D's, Somerville, Mass., April 17, 2000

By Jeffrey B. Remz

SOMERVILLE, MA - The covers a musician chooses often says a lot.

While many country acts today's idea of a cover song is something from Lynyrd Skynyrd or a pop artist, Gary Allan goes back to his home state of California.

And that means Merle Haggard - used for three covers - and Buck Owens, one.

Allan, a West Coast honky tonker with three albums and several hits under his belt, certainly acquitted himself very nicely on the covers, including the Hag's"Workingman's Blues," the cool sounding "Runaway" from his own album and "Before You Go."

But that is not the sum and total of Allan. Of course, he delved into his own catalogue from the three albums, although he was not tethered to it either, offering a more free flowing performance.

As Allan told the smallish crowd of about 100 people, "We don't go by set lists."

That meant his hits - "Her Man," "It Would Be You" and the title track of his current album, the very edgy "Smoke Rings in the Dark" - of course, were played, but he also offered a mix of songs from his own albums and others.

A cover of Guy Clark's "LA Freeway" was most welcome. Ditto for Cindy Walker's "Miss Molly," recorded by Bob Wills.

The real star, though, is Allan's voice. He has a lot of timbre and a lot of twang. He also can go easy with the ballads or toughen up on the honky tonkers. He puts the right dose of crack in his voice for a little something extra.

Allan showed his voice off to greatest effectiveness on the last song of the night, Jim Lauderdale's bluesy "Wake Up Screaming" where he let it all out without sounding overblown.

Allan's backing band the Honky Tonk Wranglers were no slouches either. The seven-piece group is anchored by long-time Allan sidekick, Jake Kelly, who writes with Allan, and sometime lead guitarist Jody Maphis. Fiddle player Paul Krammer also lends a lot of good licks to songs.

After 100 minutes, there was only one major complaint - the show wasn't long enough. And that also says a lot about Allan.