Review by Andy Hawes for MPM
Ruthless’ is Gary Allan’s tenth studio album and comes a lengthy eight years after his last effort, the mighty ‘Set You Free’. Like that album, this new one has a lovely mixture of classic rock stylings in with the Country song-writing and it’s well worth the eight year wait between albums.
Gary Allan has a wonderfully warm Country voice and he uses it to great effect on this excellent collection of songs. He has just enough Southern twang in his voice and just enough grit to give him a bit of a rock edge.
Instrumentally, there are plenty of gritty electric guitars supported by piano and with occasional bursts of slide/steel. Female backing vocals have often been a part of Gary Allan’s sound and they are all over this album as well. The result is a rocking modern Country sound that has plenty of potential crossover appeal as well as a nod or two to more traditional Country sounds.
What you won’t find within the grooves of this album are any of the clichés predominant within many of the younger male pop-country artists in Nashville – lyrically there are no trucks or tan-lines in these songs. Instead Gary Allan has co-written and selected a set of songs that have more traditional Country themes – drinking, heartbreak, love songs, etc – and well-written classic lyricism.
Allan himself talks about a pervading 90s Country influence within the sound and structures on this album and I can see what he means. He’s even drafted in legendary 90s Country producers Mark Wright (Brooks & Dunn and Leanne Womack) and Tony Brown (Vince Gill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, Trisha Yearwood, etc, etc) to oversee the project. However, don’t be thinking that this is a nostalgia trip. Far from it. This album stands up against anything coming out of Nashville at the moment.
Highlights are varied and many. Opener ‘Temptation’ is a huge piece of rocking modern Country with a pop-styled chorus and Heartland Rock sound punctuated by weeping strings and a superb guitar solo courtesy of session guitar god Tom Bukovac.
‘Waste of a Whiskey Drink’ is quite brilliant. Lyrically it’s very cleverly written and refers to a guy in a bar watching another guy looking at a beautiful woman and realising that if the guy makes a move, it’s just going to end in disaster – that she’ll just be a ‘waste of a whiskey drink.’
The fact that it’s welded to a brilliant rocking Country sound with an unbelievably catchy chorus makes it one of the best tracks on the album.
‘Til It Felt Like You’ is a brilliant modern Country ballad with a lyric about dating a beautiful woman and everything going just right ‘until it felt like you’ indicating that the narrator isn’t over his previous heartache. Once again, the guitars crunch along with just enough of a gritty rock edge that somehow adds to the angst in the song.
The quality doesn’t dip one iota through the brilliant ‘Slide’ and ‘What I Can’t Talk About’ which are kinda what Bryan Adams would sound like if he recorded in Nashville and rocked out a bit and ‘Pretty Damn Close’ which is another cracking Country ballad with a lovely lyric.
This time, there’s a bit of steel guitar weeping delicately behind the choruses which reminds you that this really is a Country album you’re listening to.
‘High As I’ve Ever Been’ is a real throwback to the classic 90s Country sound but with a modern production. ‘SEX’ is a real surprise. I don’t know about you but whenever I see a song title involving the word ‘sex’ I immediately expect something crass and over the top. Not this one though! This is another deceptively simple but very clever lyric about the impact of sex on our society.
The 90s influence returns loud and proud on the brilliant ‘Trouble Knows Trouble’ which has a that delicious ‘train beat’ on the snare drum along with some more delicate steel guitar. It’s one of the more ‘Country’ sounding tracks on the album along with ‘Little Glass of Wine’ which is as Country as they come with brilliant lyrics.
The remaining tracks, ‘Ruthless’, ‘Unfiltered’ and ‘The Hard Way’ follow the format set by the rest of the album: powerful, emotive, well-written, superbly played and sung modern Country.
This really is an excellent release by Gary Allan. It’s got pretty much everything you need from a modern Country record. If you’re a regular visitor to the rock reviews on the site and are interested in trying some of the Americana we review, then this album might well be a good place to start, as it’s a lovely mixture of modern Country and soft Heartland Rock and comes very highly recommended indeed!
Listen to Gary Allan’s new album “Ruthless” here: https://strm.to/GaryAllanRuthless
Listen to Gary Allan’s latest music: https://strm.to/GaryAllanMusic