Alright Guy, Gary Allan’s second album at MCA, is more than alright in many ways. It debuted at #4 on Billboard’s Top Country Albums chart on its release in October 2001, and brought Gary his first No. 1 with the album opener ‘Man to Man’. Produced by Tony Brown & Mark Wright, it’s one of several of Allan’s albums to be certified platinum as well. I think the success of the album is reflected in the quality of the album’s unreleased tracks rather than the singles that charted.
The driving beat and rhythmic lyrics of the lead-off single ‘Man of Me’ (a George Teren and Rivers Rutherford song) weren’t enough to drive it beyond #18 on the charts. That seems fair given that though the lyrics describe how ‘lovin’ you made a man of me’, the music doesn’t get beyond a teen rock number, complete with a screaming ‘wow’ on the very paragraph proclaiming ‘goodbye to my blind immature days’.
‘The One’ came close to being the one that hit the top of the charts first for Allan. Coming in at #3, it’s a kind and loving gentleman’s ballad written by Karen Manno and Billy Lee. Allan isn’t going to rush his girl who has been hurt before, but instead promises,
I’ll fill those canyons in your soul
Like a river lead you home
And I’ll walk a step behind
In the shadows so you shine
Just ask it will be done
And I will prove my love
Until you’re sure that I’m the one
It is a beautiful song, but the production is too heavy on the dreamy echo effects and background vocals for my taste. The interplay between Gary’s vocals and the melodic acoustic guitar line would have been enough.
Third time’s the charm, apparently. ‘Man to Man’, the third single off the album, was Allan’s first #1 on Billboard. Written by Jamie O’Hara, it’s sung by “the guy who got the girl” to “the guy who lost her”. It makes me think of a pool hall kind of scene in which the “loser” confronts the singer who turns and points out who’s really at fault and who’s really the better man. With lines like Were you ever there when she needed you, and Who cheated who/You’re the one to blame, he takes on the bully point for point.
The line that has always stood out to me, partly because of Allan’s great vocal on it, is She’s a real woman, not a doormat for you.
Again, the production is what gets in the way for me – the pop drums and background vocals don’t add to the character’s strength at all. And Allan’s cry-ee-eye-ee sends me back to 50s pop. However, it’s very sing-able and relatable with a catchy chorus and a recognizable intro – the stuff that often does well at radio.
The best songs on the album weren’t released to radio though. ‘Devil’s Candy’, one of 5 Harley Allen songs Gary has recorded, has a great hook and some great fiddle: I’ve always had a sweet tooth for the devil’s candy. Fiddles seem to exemplify that fiery battle with temptation, and this song’s no exception.
Allan’s cover of Earl Thomas Conley’s 1989 #1 hit ‘What I’d Say’ is one of my favorites with its more traditional feel, and beautifully sad steel and fiddle. Robert Byrne and Will Robinson thoughtfully paint the picture of someone rehearsing lines for that long anticipated moment of running into a lost love with all the mixed emotions that brings. The second half of the bridge sums it up well:
I love you and I hate you
All at the same time
Then I pray you’ll come back to me
Before I lose my mind
Another favorite is the bluesy, slow, dance number ‘Adobe Walls’ penned by Roger Brown and Luke Reede. Allan’s vocal is tender and matches the soft romance of a chance meeting in a Sante Fe cantina. It’s a southwest-meets-Casablanca experience with a nice blend of fiddle, steel, brushes and even clarinet.
Not a real stand out for me, ‘What’s On My Mind’ was covered by Blake Shelton on his Blake Shelton’s Barn & Grill album in 2004. Allan makes me think of Johnny Cash on this one both in voice quality and even some slides. The girl is pressing him for how he feels and what’s on his mind, but he successfully evades her because he doesn’t think she can handle what he’s thinking.
The album’s title song is a humorous cover about a guy who’s pretty clueless as to how obnoxious he is. People don’t like him and he can’t understand why. He really thinks he’s an ‘Alright Guy’. Todd Snider wrote and recorded this one for his album Songs for the Daily Planet released in 1994. The fun harmonica and organ licks add to the overall playfulness of this probably R-rated tune (for a bit of nudity, drug use and language – but he’s an alright guy, really!).
‘I’m Doin’ My Best’ continues the humor with a lyric that might have been written by Brad Paisley. It’s actually another one written by Rutherford, along with Annie and Sam Tate. Everybody deals with loss in their own way. Allan’s character in this one is six months out from the break up and ‘ain’t doin’ much good’ but he’s doin’ his best. Though he says he’s still ‘hangin’ on by a thread/that’s stretched just a little too tight’ he’s getting to the point he can laugh at himself a bit and tells about getting so drunk he ripped his pants, driving his friend’s Pontiac like a maniac into the reservoir, getting arrested by a cop that he beat up in junior high. The arrangement is also light-hearted. This one might have done well had it been released to radio.
‘I Don’t Look Back’ is a toe-tapper with great steel, fiddle and a more traditional sound. It’s also the only song on the album with a Gary Allan songwriting credit. Co-written with Odie Blackmon and Jake Kelly, Allan drives forward on this one, ‘One foot in front of the other on this one way track.’ A few lines in the second verse get at the core:
I haven’t found a heart that I can count on
But don’t feel sorry for me
I ain’t the lonesome kind
Unlike the more pop sounding numbers on the album, this one uses the background vocals to great effect with tight traditional harmonies.
The album closes with a tongue-in-cheek ballad singing the praises of Willie Nelson – literally. Allan elevates Willie to savior status and ponders in over-deep fashion, ‘What Would Willie Do’, complete with a verse spoken in reverent tones rather than sung. Allan’s straight vocal paired with Bruce Robison’s dry humorous lyric is a perfect fit.
I was lost in trouble and strife, I heard a voice and it changed my life
And now it’s a brand new day, and I ain’t afraid to say
You’re not alone when you’re down and out
And I think you know who I’m talking about
When I don’t know how I’ll get through
I ask myself what would Willie do
An appropriate ending to a more than alright album dedicated to Willie, Waylon, Johnny, George, Buck, and Merle.
The whole album can be heard on Last.fm. It is also available at amazon.