It's one thing to write country songs and another thing to live them. So while hardship has helped Gary Allan step his game up another level, the price was staggering. Allan grew up in honky-tonks, accompanying his dad's band before striking out with a Bakersfield sound and gruff, weathered tenor. His big break came when a wealthy couple to whom he sold a car found his demo in the glove box and promptly wrote him a check to pursue his dream. From the beginning Allan walked the line between Nashville pop pretension and a rougher-hewn allegiance to Merle Haggard and George Jones. By his platinum-selling third album, Smoke Rings in the Dark, he'd found a balance between the two and began to carve out a career, scoring three No. 1 singles over his subsequent two albums. Then, in 2003, Allan's wife committed suicide. His next album, Tough All Over, featured four original songs including the self-aware "Putting My Misery on Display." He wrote more than half of 2007's fine Living Hard, and even though its hit "Watching Airplanes" and recent single "Today" aren't his own, they're bathed in the pathos of someone who's lost everything he loved.
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