Gary’s second album for Decca was released in May 1998, and was in many ways a continuation of the approach taken on Used Heart For Sale, but with generally better material. Like that record, it was produced by Mark Wright and the songwriter Byron Hill who had helped Gary get his deal.
The title track and leadoff single was another top 10 hit for Gary, a brooding song about a woman who epitomises the worst kind of heartache:
If it was a full moon it would be a total eclipse.
But if we’re talking ‘bout a heartache, it would be you
Following the pattern of his debut, the ensuing singles performed disappointingly, failing to make the top 40. ‘No Man In His Wrong Heart’ is a fine song (written by Ronnie Rogers and Trey Bruce) which deserved to do much better, a tenderly delivered tale of resisting temptation one night while affirming the protagonist’s love for the woman at home. The third and final single, ‘I’ll Take Today’ (previously recorded by Tanya Tucker) is based on a similar situation, in this case with the protagonist running to an old flame, and telling his loved one that his ex is no threat to their relationship:
Old times, next to you, can never come close
I’ll take today over yesterday, any day
Gary Allan’s love songs are never saccharine – there is usually some kind of pained undercurrent of a troubled past which, together with the grainy tone of his voice adds a real sense of authenticity to the romantic sentiments. In similar vein is the mellow-sounding Jamie O’Hara/Gary Nicholson song ‘I Ain’t Runnin’ Yet’, which has a man used to shying away from anything approaching commitment and now taken unawares by his feelings. If Decca had not closed down, perhaps this would have been a fourth single.
‘Don’t Leave Her Lonely Too Long’ (a single for co-writer Marty Stuart in 1989) picks up the tempo. It is one of two cuts from Kostas, the other being ‘Red Lips, Blue Eyes, Little White Lies’. Both songs are pretty good, and bring some variety to the record, but individually neither is particularly distinctive.
Gary talked a lot about his love for traditional country music and the Bakersfield Sound at this stage of his career, and he went retro with his cover of Conway Twitty’s ‘She Loves Me (She Don’t Love You)’, warning off a “friend” who is trying to muscle in on his girl. The song was also revived by George Strait in 1990. Just as good is ‘It Took Us All Night Long To Say Goodbye’, written by Bob McDill and Wayland Holyfield about a couple breaking up who still have enough fire left for one last night together. Also in the mid-tempo honky tonk vein are Billy Yates and Jake Kelly’s ‘I’ve Got A Quarter In My Pocket’ as the protagonist debates with himself how to spend his last quarter:
Should I put in the phone
So I can come crawling home to you
Should I put it in the jukebox
And play another heartbreak song
I’m leaning towards the latter
And I really hate being alone
Another favorite is the sympathetic fiddle-led depiction of a neglected wife who would rather be “gone but not forgotten” than ‘Forgotten But Not Gone’, a ballad written by Johnny MacRae and Buzz Cason, which had been an unsuccessful single for Epic artist Keith Palmer in 1991.
Gary co-wrote just one track, as he had done on Used Heart For Sale, namely ‘Baby I Will’ is Gary’s sole writing credit on the album (together with Jake Kelly and Odie Blackmon), and is less traditional, a seductive appeal to a woman in a loveless relationship (if he don’t love you, baby I will), foreshadowing some of his later material with its sultry loungy feel.
Another of his own songs was bumped at the last minute to allow the inclusion of a song he felt strongly enough about to include over the protests of label executives, who insisted it was a ‘hidden track’, uncredited in the liner notes. I can still remember the electrifying effect of the first time I listened to this album, and heard the hidden track at the end, the chill-inducing ‘No Judgment Day’, 45 silent seconds after the end of the last credited track (‘Forgotten But Not Gone’). This is uncredited on the CD but was written by Allen Shamblin about a true incident in a Texas town. It is beautifully constructed, and Gary’s recording is very stark, set to a very simple acoustic guitar backing.
The first verse recounts the robbery of a store and murder of its 70 year old owner by three local boys for a few dollars they spend on beer:
I know my anger is not politically cool
But brother we’re in danger when kids can be so cruel as to kill for play
Dear God, have mercy
We’re living just like there’s no judgment day
The second verse concentrates on just one of the perpetrators and reveals a background of abuse:
But no one guessed the depth of his emotional scars
Til we saw him on the news grinning like a movie star
Well, I know my anger is not politically cool
But brother we’re in danger when we can be so cruel as throw our kids away
Dear God have mercy
We’re living just like there’s no judgment day
The third verse then takes us back to the funeral of the victim culminating in the sobering final couplet:
And we laid to rest one of this town’s sweetest souls
And we buried the peace we know in that very same hole
This song still has the power to reduce me to tears. It is the outstanding track on a very good album.
Although this is Gary’s lowest selling album to date, it is an excellent modern country album nicely balancing Gary’s raspy voice, cool vibe and music with a slight rock edge but definitely rooted in the country tradition. It’s probably my overall favorite Gary Allan album.