12 Songs, 43 Minutes

EDITORS’ NOTES

California-native Gary Allan may have started out as a neo-traditionalist, but Living Hard is one of those contemporary country albums that’s basically rock dressed up with pedal steel and a down home drawl. The impressive opener, “Watching Airplanes,” mixes mandolin and slide with swooping strings, orchestra bells, and Beatleseque passages to create a huge pop sound. Allan’s charged vocals and the grand production (by Allan and Mark Wright) energize the track: it’s a classic example of upbeat music playing off of forlorn lyrics. “She’s So California,” one of a handful of tunes that Allan co-wrote, utilizes iconic California imagery to make its point — the music nods towards the country-rock of the Eagles and the songwriters toss in an earthquake metaphor to boot. You can hear traces of ZZ Top, Tom Petty and others 80s rockers on the album; “Half of My Mistakes” stands out as the most countryish song here but even that track features dirty electric guitar as well as sweet fiddle. “Learning How to Bend” might be the most personal song on Living Hard. It’s the sort of compelling cut that makes a listener zoom in on the singer’s words and quietly listen to what he has to say.

EDITORS’ NOTES

California-native Gary Allan may have started out as a neo-traditionalist, but Living Hard is one of those contemporary country albums that’s basically rock dressed up with pedal steel and a down home drawl. The impressive opener, “Watching Airplanes,” mixes mandolin and slide with swooping strings, orchestra bells, and Beatleseque passages to create a huge pop sound. Allan’s charged vocals and the grand production (by Allan and Mark Wright) energize the track: it’s a classic example of upbeat music playing off of forlorn lyrics. “She’s So California,” one of a handful of tunes that Allan co-wrote, utilizes iconic California imagery to make its point — the music nods towards the country-rock of the Eagles and the songwriters toss in an earthquake metaphor to boot. You can hear traces of ZZ Top, Tom Petty and others 80s rockers on the album; “Half of My Mistakes” stands out as the most countryish song here but even that track features dirty electric guitar as well as sweet fiddle. “Learning How to Bend” might be the most personal song on Living Hard. It’s the sort of compelling cut that makes a listener zoom in on the singer’s words and quietly listen to what he has to say.

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