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Rank a Discography: Gary Allan

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.

In Summary


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  1. Cool idea for a feature!

    I only own Smoke Rings In The Dark and Living Hard, I enjoy the first and was very underwhelmed by the latter. I’ve never been able to get into Allan, I don’t know… I do love many of the songs on Smoke Rings In The Dark though.

  2. Alright, that’s it, you done gone and stole my feature. Not really, but it’s an idea I’d been mulling over for awhile. I’d rank the albums exactly the way you did, but might switch up the top two depending on which day you asked me. If he’d released Smoke Rings In The Dark in 2000, he would have to be amongst the top candidates for Artist of the Decade honors.

  3. I second Brady’s comment to the T, except for the feature-stealing bit.

  4. 1. Tough All Over
    Smoke Rings in the Dark
    3. See If I Care
    4. Alright Guy
    5. Living Hard
    6. It Would Be You
    7. Used Heart for Sale

  5. I knew someone would break up the consensus-fest.

    Honestly, there was a bit of jockeying for position between 1-2 and 3-4 on my list, so I can’t really say that I disagree with that order either, Blake.

    I stole your feature and your order, Brady? Sorry about that.

  6. 1. See If I Care
    2. Tough All Over
    3. Alright Guy
    4. Living Hard
    5. Smoke Rings in the Dark
    6. It Would Be You
    7. Used Heart for Sale

  7. 1. Smoke Rings In The Dark
    2. Living Hard
    3. See If I Care
    4. Tough All Over
    5. Alright Guy
    6. Used Heart For Sale
    7. It Would Be You

  8. 1. It Would Be You – I seem to be out on a limb with this one, but I guess I just find it the most consistent
    2. See If I Care
    3. Smoke Rings In The Dark
    4. Used Heart For Sale
    5. Alright Guy
    6. Tough All Over
    7. Living Hard

    Numbers 2-5 are actually all really close for me (it’s a question of how many truly great songs and how many just very good ones are on each album, and how you weight that in ranking), but there’s a decline for me with his more recent material, particularly with the last one, as well as a move to a more rock sound which I don’t enjoy as much.

  9. I haven’t heard enough of his first two to rank them fairly but I’ll rank the others:
    1. Smoke Rings
    2. Tough All Over
    3. Alright Guy
    4. Living Hard
    5. See if I Care (not a big fan of this one)

  10. I’d probably flip your top two around and put Living Hard at the very bottom. I liked his first two albums, but didn’t really get into him until Tough All Over. Then I went and bought everything he’d put out and grew to appreciate those first two albums, the second more than the first. Tough All Over and Smoke Rings are my absolute favorites though.

    In summary:
    Tough All Over
    Smoke Rings In the Dark
    Alright Guy
    See If I Care
    It Would Be You
    Used Heart For Sale
    Living Hard

  11. I love Gary so it’s hard to rank his albums because i find they’re all great.

    Alright Guy
    Tough All Over
    See If I Care
    Smoke Rings In The Dark
    It Would Be You
    Used Heart For Sale

  12. I like Living Hard a lot … I see my love is not shared.

  13. Wow, our rankings are all over the map, but I like it. Thanks to everyone who has posted their list so far.

  14. You are oh so right about “Smoke Rings!” It’s the ditty that planted Gary’s music on the map of ears (which are quite hairy)…

  15. I was really excited to see someone invest time into Gary Allan in such a way, and was even more excited when I realized Gary was the first on this maiden voyage of music ranking. Being the big Gary fan that I am, I’m gonna have to go with Blake’s list. That is the exact order I’d rank them in myself.

    Smoke Rings was the one that pulled me in. The raw emotion Gary released on the title track was unlike anything I had ever heard. When I first listened to Tough All Over in its entirety, I was blwon away. I didn’t think Gary could get much better than he already had, but I was proven otherwise.

    I’ve found that Living Hard is a good album, and does have some good songs, but I honestly miss the sad, brooding Gary I’ve come to love. Hopefully, he revisit him from time to time.


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