A well-rounded singer discovers that the earth is, as well

Country singer Gary Allan has some fast little rockers, but what strikes me is that he's most rock 'n' roll on the slow songs. I keep expecting him to break into "The Rhythm of the Rain" or "The Great Pretender." He's got a flexible voice, and it's as if he knows he can wail like Dion DiMucci and do pirouettes like Clyde McPhatter but decides to play it cool like Ricky Nelson. I can't say if the restrictions of country music hold him back or keep him steady on his feet, but I like the result.

In general, See If I Care balances nicely between staying put and letting loose. Maybe this is why so many reviewers extol its country virtues, apparently not noticing how much it is saturated by AOR rock. But modern country absorbs a wide range of rock stylings (on this LP, Chuck Berry riffs as well as '80s high harmonies) without necessarily calling them rock. And a benefit of calling it all country is that you can pilfer from 50 years of rock without sounding like an oldie.

To like this album, I did have to set aside my aversion to the first single, "Tough Little Boys," a piece of sentimental shit that's bullying in its core (and matches the national mood, I guess). Yeah, when tough little boys grow up to be dads, they can get all mushy—but they don't have to tell their little daughter, "I know one day I'll give you away," and make a point of how they'll get misty-eyed after the wedding. Look, she might not want to marry; even if she does, life might not cooperate; and anyhow she's not yours to give away. (Craig A. Ross, customer at amazon.com, nails it: "A hard swallow for anyone who thinks more of their child than how they make one feel.")

Some lyrics here are even dumber (one where he complains that you can't smoke in bars anymore, another—a Jesse Winchester cover—where he says no one told him it was lonely on the road [sorry, they had told him, right after they told him the earth was round, but he forgot]), but those songs come out charming anyway. His voice briefly cracks into falsetto on the phrase "an old honky-tonker's heart," demonstrating that he's really a subtle high-bar specialist—one who'd rather entertain than dazzle.

 
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