Saturday, June 18, 2022
In Nashville, before anyone ever referred to the southern end of Broadway as SoBro, the Hillsboro Village neighborhood boasted Sunset Grill, a restaurant that during the 1990s proved as integral to Nashville recorded music as other metropolitan eateries that over the years became legendary hubs for creative businesses in New York and Los Angeles. It was a sprawling and long-lunchy and late-dinnerish breadbaskets-and-virgin-olive-oil thing.
“In the mid- ‘90s,” the California-born country star Gary Allan said, “I would go find my whole record label at Sunset Grill. People called it The Devil’s Triangle back then. Most songwriting would stem from showing up there then winding up at somebody’s house at midnight.” In 2015, when the restaurant closed, The Nashville Scene dubbed Sunset Grill a “grand ‘90s lady.”
Ruthless, Allan’s new album and his most commanding work ever, tells the story of the move of the Nashville country business — often as confusing as it has been successful — from the 1990s to right now, when it hums along silently, smack in the middle of what industry folks call The Streaming Era.
Simple nostalgia is the last thing on the album’s mind. To arrive at this rocking, swinging, loud, subtle, funny, sad, tricky, and sizzling suite of thirteen songs, Allan has refused to rush: He has afforded himself what probably is, certainly as the 2020s have unfolded, today’s supreme luxury: time.
“This is a montage of everything I have done since my last album,” Allan said. “It’s what I love. I remain influenced by the ‘90s — as well as by the ‘80s. Twenty-six tracks were cut for this album. Then I went back to the studio and recorded three or four more tracks. Then I returned for two more. From each of these many sessions, I pulled out the cool stuff that I wanted on the record.”
Mentioning the title track, Allan talks about it like this: “Ryan Hurd, Hillary Lindsey and busbee wrote the song. I hear it as a kind of Elvis-like music, late Elvis, like ‘Suspicious Minds’ or ‘Burnin’ Love.’ I think we captured that on the track. It’s layered harmonically and rhythmically. I think we nailed it.”
“I look at an album,” Allan said, “like a show: I have to come in and give some bang right off the top. And then I can slow down. I feel like it’s walking through your moods. Like a pool hustler or prizefighter, you don’t want to come out swinging with everything you got. You want to reveal the whole array of emotion.”
‘Ruthless’ is an old-school West Coast tell–it–like-it-is and it is a new Gary Allan album, super-deluxe, as well. It is modern as all hell. It lives off the literary chops of country songwriting immemorial. Yet it intertwines finely the innovations of Nashville in the ‘90s with Nashville in 2021. It is country that still has, to paraphrase Allan in an intricately written love song called “Pretty Damn Close,” a little glitter in its hair.
“Waste of a Whiskey Drink”
“Mess Me Up”
“Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain)”
“Get Off on the Pain”
“She’s So California”
“Learning How to Bend”
“Life Ain’t Always Beautiful”
“Best I Ever Had”
“Nothin’ On But the Radio”
“Tough Little Boys
“Man to Man”
“Right Where I Need To Be”