This is a new feature I’ll be running occasionally in which I choose an artist and give my personal ranking of all the regular albums they’ve put out to date. I’ll probably be focusing on artists with smallish discographies (sorry, George Strait) to make the task more manageable for me and for you, as I’m hoping to get some audience participation from people giving their own rankings in the comments section.
I’m not expecting that we’ll reach any sort of consensus; this is just about the exchange of opinions. Hopefully it might also be of some use to people looking to start or add to their collection of a particular artist.
Without further ado, the series launches with a look at the work of Gary Allan:
1. Smoke Rings in the Dark (1999)
Tough All Over would probably be a more popular choice for the top spot, but Smoke Rings in the Dark is really where Gary Allan mastered the art of neotraditional cool. This is a fully-realized artistic statement, eons better than the tentative sophomore effort that preceded it by just one year.
2. Tough All Over (2005)
Allan’s most cohesive album to date, this moody collection found him moving further into rock territory than ever before. Not all the songs are knockouts, but it’s engrossing all the way through.
3. Alright Guy (2001)
Bright, radio-ready contemporary country at its best. This is music that’s both smart and tuneful, thanks to crisp production, characteristically lively vocal performances, and song selections from such left-of-center figures as Bruce Robison, Jim Lauderdale, and Todd Snider.
4. See If I Care (2003)
Splits the difference between the two albums that preceded it, mixing the contemporary sheen of Alright Guy with the neotraditional swagger of Smoke Rings in the Dark. This could probably be a career highlight in another artist’s discography, but falls squarely in the middle of the pack for Gary Allan.
5. Living Hard (2007)
The follow-up to the landmark Tough All Over sees Allan continuing in the rock vein, but frequently squandering his talent on material that just isn’t up to par.
6. It Would Be You (1998)
Mostly by-the-numbers ’90s hat act stuff, but Allan pulls it off more convincingly than most.
7. Used Heart for Sale (1996)
A pretty scrawny debut on the whole, but hints at the arrival of a vital artist pulling on a range of influences – classic country, rockabilly, Bakersfield – who might shake things up a bit in the future.