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Living Hard

Living Hard

4.7 7
by Gary Allan
When Gary Allan released Tough All Over in 2005, it was a turning point. He'd been running all over the country map from the beginning of his career in 1995 (label A&R types and certain producers can feel more like oppressive regimes than nurturers of talent). But on that effort he finally contributed substantially to the songwriting by co-penning four of the


When Gary Allan released Tough All Over in 2005, it was a turning point. He'd been running all over the country map from the beginning of his career in 1995 (label A&R types and certain producers can feel more like oppressive regimes than nurturers of talent). But on that effort he finally contributed substantially to the songwriting by co-penning four of the album's tracks, and by embracing rock & roll in a way he hadn't before. He had to be happy with it. It was still a really slick record but it was harder, leaner, and reflected its title without giving up an ounce of the accessibility or appeal of his earlier albums. Living Hard is part two of that evolution. Allan co-produced with Mark Wright, and co-wrote six of the album's 11 cuts. The confidence that brims from the opening grooves of "Watching Airplanes," the set's first cut, is obvious. Written by Jim Beavers and Jonathan Singleton, mandolins and electric guitars entwine to offer a thin rope for Allan's delivery to walk as he brings a broken love song full bore to the listener. With an imaginative mix of Fender Rhodes, strings, big guitars, pedal steel and big tom toms, and slapback on the vocal, its refrain is almost anthemic; his vocal, while big and strong, comes off as bewildered while seeking to console itself by simply sitting still and looking into the sky without having any answers. As good as this track is, it's merely a precursor to Allan's "We Touched the Sun." Written with Jim Lauderdale and Odie Blackmon, it's one of those big, fat contemporary country love songs that endears itself to radio play, a big production video, and most of all, scores its memory deep into the ears of every listener. A simple hook that won't let go, the guitars -- metallic leads included -- are enormous, interwoven with strings and a transcendent refrain; the song is almost bigger than the record that contains it. But it goes from here and just gets better. And while no one track touches that one, "She's So California" is a country tune by Allan with Jon Randall and Jaime Hanna, and a hook in the middle of the verses right out of Tom Petty's fakebook. Pedal steel fills dominate it so it won't be mistaken for what it actually is, but the guitar sounds are even drenched in a Rickenbacker 12-string ethos. Allan loves to rock -- check the big bad riff on "Like It's a Bad Thing" that could have come right out of early-'80s MTV. The steel and fiddles are the only things that keep it from being hard rock; there's a B-3 choogling along in between the lines on both verse and refrain, pushing the groove into the dual lead -- metallic guitars are a nice twist, too. One can hear everything from Eddie Money to Bon Jovi in this mix, except for one vital element that apparently makes this a truly contemporary country album: these guys play loud guitars, but they're afraid of them. They compress these big riffs and the bassline so much that they actually end up sounding thin. When these cats can learn how to embrace a big bottom end they will be unstoppable, and if they let the rounded edges create space for that huge drum kit along with a bassline that immediately brings the listener into the tune, they will be unstoppable. Sure there are the equivalent of power ballads here too, like the truly wonderful "Learning How to Bend." With the echo effects on the vocal and the big strings at the same volume as those ringing, jangling guitars, they can't miss. Allan writes great lyrics for a pop lyricist, and here is more evidence that it's his own tunes that really connect. Some might be put off by those slapback digital delay chorus line vocals in tunes like this one and "As Long as You're Looking Back," but it's new ground. It serves these songs well and Allan is enough of a vocalist: powerful, strong, and in the tradition that it pushes the music forward to the next level. "Yesterday's Rain," written by Allan, Matt Warren, and James LeBlanc is the first true ballad on the set and it's the eighth cut on the record; it comes as welcome diversion after the over the top and nearly ridiculous Big & Rich/Montgomery Gentry style cross that is "Wrecking Ball" (the tune is so bad not even those acts could have pulled it off). Allan's "Trying to Matter," cops a .38 Special riff (think "Hang On Loosely") for another of his mid-tempo rockers, with a sprightly B-3 riding above the melody it works like a charm. That's the sun for this set: charm. Allan's personality on record, as nearly schizophrenic as it has been these past 11 years, has finally settled into its own kind of recognizable charm that wears its influences on its sleeve and makes no apologies. He uses it inside songs that are memorable for their hooks, their grand choruses, and heartfelt emotion, even if they aren't memorable for the long haul. The title track closes the record, and it's so over into the red you gotta hear it to believe it. You'll think your stereo is defective for a couple of minutes with all its distortion and wah wah pedal. It smokes. Period. Living Hard is a moment, hopefully not a singular one, for an artist who has worked diligently, put in the time, and found his way with the most consistent and striking album of his career thus far.

Product Details

Release Date:
Mca Nashville

Related Subjects


Album Credits

Performance Credits

Gary Allan   Primary Artist
Eric Darken   Percussion
Chad Cromwell   Drums
Dan Dugmore   Steel Guitar
Kenny Greenberg   Electric Guitar
Steve Nathan   Piano,Hammond Organ,Wurlitzer,Hammond B3
Russ Pahl   Acoustic Guitar,Steel Guitar
Michael Rhodes   Bass
Brent Rowan   Electric Guitar
Hank Singer   Fiddle
Robby Turner   Steel Guitar
John Willis   Acoustic Guitar,Mandolin
Glenn Worf   Bass
Russell Terrell   Background Vocals
Jon Randall   Background Vocals
Jerry Flowers   Background Vocals
Wes Hightower   Background Vocals
Perry Coleman   Background Vocals
Jaime Hanna   Strings,Electric Guitar,Background Vocals

Technical Credits

Radney Foster   Composer
Craig Allen   Art Direction
Steve Beers   Engineer
Bob DiPiero   Composer
Dean Dillon   Composer
Greg Droman   Engineer
Audley Freed   Composer
Kristin Wilkinson   String Arrangements
Mark Wright   Producer,Audio Production
Neil Thrasher   Composer
Keith Gattis   Composer
Jon Randall   Composer
Gary Allan   Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Jim Beavers   Composer
Aaron Baker   Composer
Casey Beathard   Composer
Odie Blackmon   Composer
Scotty Emerick   Composer
Jaime Hanna   Composer
Bobby Houck   Composer
Leslie Richter   Engineer
James LeBlanc   Composer
Jonathan Singleton   Composer

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Living Hard 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All of his songs are again awesome. Just a few more days and nothing else will be listened too on my CD player!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Gary rocks! I have all his cds & he never lets me down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What an incredible and exciting twist Gary is to the country music scene. This CD exemplifies the excitement and energy he brings with him to each of his live performances. The unfortunate thing is how he remains so under rated because he refuses to be typical and mainstream. Gary Allan brings something to country for not just country fans but fans of many types of music. This CD offers something for just about everybody. He does the soft ballad with &quot Yesterday's Rain&quot and yet kicks it up several notches and throws some almost hard rock into it with &quot Living Hard&quot . What fun! This CD makes you want to get up and dance. His voice is totally awesome. It is uniquely Gary. He sings straight from the heart. This album proves that. Each of his CD's is fun and different. That's what's great about this country artist. No album is the same. You can always count on a pleasant surprise with each new CD. &quot So what if I don't do it like everybody else does?&quot You know what? Gary, your fans don't want you to do it like everybody else does! You stay who you are and continue to shine! Thanks for the wonderful entertainment!
Guest More than 1 year ago
love the songs- especially "as long as your looking back"...killer!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a decent effort, "Watching Airplanes" being the obvious strong point, but I think Allen needs to do one thing. Get over yourself! He seems to have taken on the "brooding, introspective, never really appreciated artist" persona very well, and plays it up every chance he gets. Any footage of him performing, whether in a concept video or live, the man cant seem to smile, and even for a minute appear that he is in the least bit enjoying what he is doing! Get over yourself, Gary! You have the ability and the hooks to be HUGE, but you need to lighten up!