Like a log jam cutting loose, country fans have been handsomely rewarded recently by new albums from country legends after lengthy delays, and announcements about others on-the-way. We just got the first record from Travis Tritt in some 14 years in Set and Stone, and it’s pretty darn solid. Soon we’ll have the new album from Alan Jackson Where Have You Gone, and so far what we’ve heard from that has been pretty superb as well. Even Jamey Johnson might be getting in on the game soon after years of no new album.
And among all this, we also got confirmation that Gary Allan will be making his album return finally on June 25th when he releases his long-anticipated 10th album entitled Ruthless after nearly eight years, making a big announcement about the 13-track album Thursday evening, May 6th via social media.
Many true country fans were ecstatic at the news, but I fear some folks have visions of getting a slew of new songs from Gary along the lines of “Nothing On but the Radio” and “Smoke Rings in the Dark” when we already have multiple indications that’s unlikely the direction Gary Allan will be taking here.
I hate to be a wet blanket—and most certainly there’s nothing wrong with hoping for the best—but the long delay in Gary Allan music is not a case of an artist just not seeing the point of putting forth the the effort to record and release a studio record. It’s been due to a period in Gary Allan’s career when he’s been trying to find a second commercial wind, and failing.
It all started after a 2013 interview with Larry King, when King asked Gary Allan if he thought artists such as Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood were country.
“You know, I would say no,” Allan responded. “I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre. I also feel like we lost our genre. I don’t feel like I make music for a genre anymore, and I did, you know, 15 years ago. But I think since the Clear Channel’s and the Cumulus’s and the big companies bought up all the chains, now it’s about a demographic. You know, so they’ve kind of sliced everything up, feeding it to the public in demographics.”
Of course what Gary said is 100% correct. But in country music, you’re not supposed to say the quiet part out loud or you’ll be ostracized, and that’s what happened to Allan subsequently. Where before Allan enjoyed strong support from the country radio format with four #1’s, eleven total Top 10’s, and nineteen Top 25 hits, all of a sudden Gary Allan couldn’t buy a spin on radio.
Gary’s last single from his last album “It Ain’t The Whiskey” released around the time of the comments on Larry King stalled at #40. Then Gary Allan commenced a period where he tried to reinvent himself into a sort of Sam Hunt/Thomas Rhett character, releasing the pretty terrible single “Hangover Tonight” which stalled at #49 in 2015.
This was chased by “Do You Wish It Was Me?” that stalled at #57 in 2016, “Mess Me Up” in 2017 that stalled at #45, and “Waste of a Whiskey Drink” in 2020 that stopped at #60. Instead of facing the reality that radio was done with him, Gary Allan seemed to be doing everything he could to fall back into their good graces by releasing radio-friendly material, and still failing.
Over the last eight years, word is Gary Allan scrapped at least one entire album, and started working with radio-friendly producers and songwriters such as Shane McAnally and busbee (RIP) who both have songwriting credits in the track list for Ruthless. And it didn’t take long after Gary Allan’s announcement Thursday night to get our first taste of new music with his new single “Temptation” being released at midnight Eastern. It’s not terrible or anything, but it sounds like a radio hit, which isn’t exactly a compliment. But again, it’s very circumspect if radio will even play it.
This isn’t to completely squash the excitement some are feeling at the announcement of a new Gary Allan album. But hoping for the best while stealing yourself for the worst is probably the smart posture to take with this particular one. Unlike guys such as Alan Jackson, Travis Tritt, and Jamey Johnson, I’m not sure Gary Allan is ready to give up on the idea of getting radio play, and getting back to what he does best just yet. Maybe his is though. Or maybe this record will be a mix.
We’ll just have to wait and see.
Gary Allan’s Ruthless Tracklist:
1. “Temptation” (Nicolle Galyon, Chase McGill, Jon Nite)
2. “Waste of a Whiskey Drink” (Josh Kear, Michael Hardy, Mark Holman)
3. “Till It Felt Like You: (Kyle Jacobs, Joe Leathers, Matt Warren)
4. “Slide” (Ross Ellis, Alex Kline, Michael Whitworth)
5. “Pretty Damn Close” (Gary Allan, Sarah Buxton, Rodney Clawson, Warren)
6. “High as I’ve Ever Been” (Warren, James Slater, Skip Black)
7. “What I Can’t Talk About” (Jim Beavers, Lindsay Rimes, Matt Rogers)
8. “SEX” (Galyon, Shane McAnally, Matt Jenkins)
9. “Trouble Knows Trouble” (Steve Bogard, Jason Sever, John Edwards)
10. “Ruthless” (Hillary Lindsey, busbee, Ryan Hurd)
11. “Unfiltered” (Blair Daly, Brad Warren, Brett Warren)
12. “Little Glass of Wine” (Jesse Winchester)
13. “The Hard Way” (Warren and Carey Ott)