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Album Review | COUNTRY

Gary Allan, ‘Set You Free’

Gary Allan used to straddle a line between mainstream country and an edgy traditionalist alternative. But as his last few records have steadily incorporated rock and pop iterations into his twang, he’s been edging over that line. The result has been less of his West Coast neo-trad sound (represented here by the aching “It Ain’t the Whiskey” and the country-rock murmur of “Sand in My Soul”). Allan remains resolutely old-fashioned in another respect, however: In an era of singles, he seems determined to make albums. This one has a thematic movement from a romantic breakup, delineated by the driving “Tough Goodbye” at the outset, to recovery by record’s end. In between, there’s anger (“Bones”), grief (“Me Without You”), and bitter wisdom (“Hungover Heart”) before a new beginning marked by the relaxed sensuality of “Drop” and the closing ballad “Good as New.” He may offer less of an alternative than he once did, but that old-school concern and a wider sonic palette keep Allan just this side of the mainstream. (Out Tuesday)

ESSENTIAL “It Ain’t the Whiskey”

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