Gary Allan,
Smoke Rings in the Dark
(MCA, 1999)

Smoke Rings in the Dark is the third release from Orange County, California artist Gary Allan. Allan's appeal comes from his haunting voice as well as his choice of music for this release. His influences include the Bakersfield music of Merle Haggard and Buck Owens as well as the neo-traditional country of George Strait. One can also draw comparisons to the vocal stylings of Roy Orbison, particularly on the title track, "Smoke Rings in the Dark" which was a runaway hit on country radio and the country music video channels.

"Right Where I Need to Be" is pure Bakersfield country with some really nice instrumental breaks, while "Don't Tell Mama" is pure honkytonk, harkening back to the country music of the '40s or '50s. "Loving You Against My Will" has a very nice melody and is also strongly evocative of the music of Orbison, although I think the strings may be overdone in places.

Other standouts among the dozen tracks are "Crying For Nothing," written by Kevin Welch, "Bourbon Borderline" and a remake of the Del Shannon-penned hit, "Runaway," that is very close to the original. "Greenfields" is a very nice ballad.

Though I am not particularly a fan of what is called country music today, I really like Smoke Rings in the Dark. I have already played it several times and will continue to do so. The CD gets a high recommendation for those longing for a return to the country music of days past.

[ by Robert Buck ]

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