For his ninth studio album, Gary Allan enlisted an expanded group of songwriters. The result is a record, Set You Free, with many personalities, some more likable than others. The first single, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain),” mines familiar territory – breaking up and moving on – and reached the top of the country charts.
There’s enough good country pop to follow, like “Pieces,” an upbeat live and learn beauty, and “One More Time” a touching looking-down-from heaven ballad. “Good As New” also hits all the buttons – there’s no doubt that Allan knows his wheelhouse quite well.
But it’s the changeups that make Set You Free interesting.
The reggae flavored “No Worries” is a bouncy romp, and “Sand In My Soul” serves the beach theme by adding a few rough edges. “I hate to say you broke my heart … but I love the way this tiki bar is somehow never closed,” muses the song’s post-breakup narrator.
The spurned, drunk, homicidal “Bones” takes the dark side a little too far, and the stalking ex-lover at the center of “Me Without You” is a bit creepy. But those are exceptions in an otherwise good-natured effort.
Standout tracks include “Hungover Heart,” which is metaphorically odd enough to work – “don’t get too high on love or addicted to her touch/don’t get hung up on forever ‘cuz there ain’t no such.”
“Drop” comes out of left field to be the album’s best track. Originally by Nashville songwriter Joel Shewmake, it’s a sexy, sultry blues shuffle. In Allan’s hands, the track has a loose, final take of the session feel. It gets better with every play.
Final score: 4 out of 5
Best tracks: “Drop,” “Hungover Heart” and “Pieces”