Dictionary.com defines freedom as “the power to determine action without restraint.” Thus, Gary Allan’s Set You Free is a perfectly named, well-conceived album that embodies his own evolution toward personal, creative freedom. The album, sequenced with a storyline in which a man breaks the restraints of a failed relationship and conquers the loneliness of its aftermath, is the result of Allan’s own journey as a man and as an artist.
He took a number of new steps during the recording process – by mixing up the production team, playing lead guitar on a number of tracks, writing more of his own material and using a handful of new co-writers. As a result, he came up with the most optimistic album of his career, one that acknowledges the hurdles of the past and the ways in which they’ve helped to shape his current sense of renewal.“It’s all about healing,” Allan says. “It’s all about the evolution of getting better. He has, to be sure, drawn heavily from that viewpoint, mixing honky-tonk bravado and grainy isolation across eight previous studio albums, all the while mining the emotional turf that fuels a life well-lived: the joys of parenting, the heartache of personal loss, the testosterone of disagreement and the unpredictability of love. He registered five #1 singles – “Man To Man,” “Tough Little Boys,” “Nothing On But The Radio,” “Watching Airplanes” and “Every Storm Runs Out of Rain” – in addition to such trademark hits such as the lonely “Best I Ever Had” and the swaggering “Right Where I Need To Be.” Allan’s amassed seven gold albums in the process – three of them certified platinum, as well – and maintained the admiration of critics for his unwavering uniqueness.
Set You Free is at once familiar and enlightening. Fans who have followed Allan throughout his 17-year recording career will recognize the dark crevasses in the project – the gnarled anger of “Bones,” the honest self-examination of “It Ain’t The Whiskey,” the sinister self-abuse of “Sand In My Soul.” But as the album’s cinematic plot unfolds, it opens into a refreshing glimpse of self-acceptance. Allan falls into a carefree, quasi-reggae groove on the upbeat “No Worries.” He couches past suffering as a tool for a promising future in the driving, penultimate “Pieces.” And he closes the album with a dramatic, lush proclamation, “Good As New.” That latter title sums up the emotional place in which Allan finds himself, and he attributes much of it to music. “There’s no better thing than to have all your best friends come over and to talk about the emotions that you’re having,” Allan says. “Songwriting is the best therapy in the world.” Allan is also good as new in a literal, physical way. Set You Free is the first album he recorded since the removal of a polyp on his vocal cords that had doggedly restricted his range, his strength and his expression. The issue was discovered almost by accident during a routine checkup with a Nashville voice doctor. But it explained why his concerts had ever so gradually become a test of his endurance.
“Every time I would go out before the surgery, I would only last full force for about three songs,” he says. “I could feel the fatigue, and I could feel my cords swell up, and I had other people hitting notes for me. They removed the polyp, and it was like I was 18 again. It was amazing how well it worked.”
The difference is noticeable. There’s always been a gritty, gravelly edge to his performances, but confident that his voice will respond, Allan pushes himself on Set You Free, singing with more command, authority and pliability than he has in years.
Able to challenge himself vocally, he found other ways to draw from his creative muse. He devoted more time to writing songs and explored a new avenue by co-writing for the first time with a series of women. Of the five songs he penned, four are co-written with three different women – Sarah Buxton, Hillary Lindsey and Rachel Proctor – a step that unlocked an undefinable energy. He particularly enjoyed many of the songs he wrote with Lindsey, who’s written a bevy of successful country titles in the last decade, including Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” and Lady Antebellum’s “American Honey.” “Every time I’ve written with her and my buddy Matt Warren, we end up with like nine starts of a song, because it seemed like we were always branching off into some other subject,” Allan notes. “Then we’d come back and we’d write one or two of those and have four or five more ideas. Eventually, we would come back and finish writing one or two more of those. It’s an amazing thing that we have. We’ve written nine or ten songs, but we’ve only been written together three times. It’s quality. Once you get those kind of rhythm going, you try to ride it out the best you can.”
Their efforts included “Every Storm (Runs Out Of Rain),” the first single from the album – which features Lindsey as the harmony vocalist. It marks the first time a woman has provided the backing vocals on one of Allan’s singles, providing a softer contrast to his roughed-edged, ultra-masculine tone.
“Every Storm,” in fact, is a distillation of the entire album, as well as the renewal that accompanied it. The singer bravely faces all of his demons – “Don’t be afraid of the thorns / ‘Cause we all have thorns” – as he moves forward, ending the chorus by hitting an extended high note on a line that just happens to be the album’s title, “Set you free.”
“That line,” Allan muses, “says so much.”
The Southern California-born Allan has been exploring the thorns since the beginning of his musical life, when he played the clubs during his high school years. After graduation, he developed a following in the area, regularly attracting an audience that featured a rare mix of rednecks in western boots and neo-Goths with piercings and spiked hair. Allan was particularly inspired in a concert by the Highwaymen – Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash and Kris Kristofferson – to pursue music that mined the dangerous side of life. “They were so powerful,” Allan reflects. “It was like punk rock to me. It was so hardcore. I really, really wanted to be a part of that lifestyle.”In Set You Free, Allan found even greater artistic clarity, building a cohesive narrative from a collection of songs directed by three different producers. Longtime friend Mark Wright (Gretchen Wilson, Lee Ann Womack) tracked three songs, while the versatile and mysterious Jay Joyce (Eric Church, Cage The Elephant, The Wallflowers) turned in five and Allan co-produced the final four with engineer Greg Droman (Brooks & Dunn, True Blood theme).
“Getting in and doing it myself with some of my band guys was a big deal,” Allan observes. “It was a big breath of fresh air.” Which is what Set You Free represents. The album’s lyrical journey from darkness to light reflects much of what went on behind it – the progression of Allan’s own life as an adult, the restoration of his voice, the renewed energy from working with new songwriting partners and the challenge of producing his own tracks and playing his own lead guitar. All of those changes have given him a new sense of freedom. “I seem to gravitate musically toward wherever I’m at in my life at that time,” Allan says. “And I’m in a real good place.”
“Hey! This is Billy Currington. Hope you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey, this is T.J., and I’m John, and we’re Brothers Osborne. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hi! I’m Carrie Underwood, wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day. Send me some chocolate.”
“Hey y’all! This is Caylee Hammack, wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“What’s up y’all? This is Darius Rucker, hoping you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey, it’s Dierks Bentley, hoping you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey! This is Eric Church, hoping you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey, this is Gary Allan, wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“This is George Strait, wishing you a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hi! It’s Jon Pardi, and I hope you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey! It’s Jordan Davis, hoping you have a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey! This is Josh Turner, and I want to wish you and your sweetheart a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hi, this is Kacey Musgraves, and I hope you have a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone. This is Keith Urban. Make the day special for your ‘Once in a Lifetime’ love.”
“Hey! What’s happening, everybody? This is Kip Moore. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey! We’re Little Big Town. Happy Valentine’s Day!”
“Hey y’all, it’s Luke Bryan. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hey everybody. I’m Parker McCollum, wishing all the lovers out there a Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hi! This is Sam Hunt, wishing you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.”
“Hi, this is Shania Twain. Happy Valentine’s Day.”
Gary Allan has a very adventurous and creative spirit. In between writing and recording songs, playing shows, making jewelry, Gary is crossing off a bucket list item as he’s on a safari in Africa. The California native has received kisses from a giraffe, taken selfies with elephants, witnessed an elephant crossing and had a bull elephant square off against him and his fellow vacationers and so much more. In one post on his Instagram account, he says “Crazy fun here. Saw zebras , giraffes, lions , elephants, hippos and hyenas today . More to come!!”
When Gary returns, he’ll head to Texas to play Rodeo Austin on February 8th.
What are some of your favorite stars doing to welcome in the New Year? A few of them are working to help fans celebrate. Several artists have taken the time off around the holidays and will hit it hard when they return to the road in January. Some artists have resolutions, and some are very helpful with their own hangover cures for those who imbibe too much on New Year’s Eve.
Keith Urban is set to headline Music City on New Year’s Eve for the fourth consecutive year. He’ll perform at the Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park as part of the Jack Daniels Music City Midnight bash. The legendary Stevie Nicks will join Keith, as well as Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, Ashley McBryde, Amanda Shires, The Struts and the Fisk Jubilee Singers, among others. The event will include the traditional Music Note Drop and fireworks display to ring in the New Year. Keith will be featured on “NBC’s New Year’s Eve,” which will be hosted by Carson Daly and Julianne Hough. The special will air Monday, December 31st from 10-11pm ET/PT and return 11:30pm – 12:30am ET/PT. Keith, as well Shania Twain, will also appear during CNN’s coverage of the New Year with hosts Anderson Cooper and Andy Cohen.
Sam Hunt will perform during Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve from New York City. The long-running countdown to the new year, hosted by Ryan Seacrest, will also include performers Keith Urban, Post Malone, BTS, Jonas Brothers, Kelsea Ballerini, Blanco Brown, Dan + Shay, Green Day, Sheryl Crow, Usher, Salt-N-Pepa and many others. The show will air 8pm to 2am ET on ABC.
Lauren Alaina will perform on Fox’s New Year’s Eve with Steve Harvey: Live From Times Square. Other performers include LL Cool J, Florida Georgia Line, The Chainsmokers, The Lumineers, Backstreet Boys and The Killers, among others, to help ring in 2020. The show will air in two parts: 8p-10p ET/CT live; MT/PT tape-delayed with the second part beginning at 11pm – 12:30am ET live; CT/MT/PT tape-delayed.
Gary Allan is set to ring in the New Year with a show at Riverwind Casino in Norman, Oklahoma.
Brothers Osborne (New Year) OC: (TJ) …next month. :44
JOHN: “I think it’s kind of funny how we spend literally the last moment and the very first moment of every year being extremely intoxicated, extremely, because you don’t want to wait until like 12:30 to get your buzz on. You’ve got to do it before midnight, and then once midnight happens, you’re like, ‘Omigod! Now it’s time to celebrate even more.’ Debauchery is the literally bookending your entire year.” TJ: “I love how everyone starts the year off with diets and then we end the year with like excessive amounts of food. And then you get to the end of the year, you’re like, ‘Oh, I’m going to start a diet on the 1st, so I’m going to eat everything that’s in front of me.’ I love it.” JOHN: “And come February 1st, ‘what diet?’” [laughs] TJ: “What diet? I’ll start it next month.” [laughs]
Brothers Osborne (hangover cure) OC: …of the year. :07
“Usually drinking more. I mean, a little hair of the dog never hurt anybody. Plus, it’s the first of the year.”
Clare Dunn (hangover cure) OC: …hangover cure. :10
“Greasy food is always kind of a, you can let it go for one day before you start all your resolutions [laughs] after that. So, that’s probably my best hangover cure.”
Dierks (NYE) OC: …for that. :10
“I think January first is universally accepted as a dog. So, I mean, a little hair of the dog, I guess. But just…water and stay on the couch, I guess. There’s no real sure-fire cure for that.”
Dierks Bentley (New Year’s) OC: …in stride. 1:07
“New Year’s is rough. New Year’s hurts no matter what’s going on. I’ve played a lot of New Year’s shows, you know, but I’ve honestly found that it’s not my favorite night to throw down. Look, for a living, that’s what I do. Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, I host a big party; not only on stage, but I’ve got friends backstage. It starts before the concert sometimes, [and] it goes long after the concert, so a lot of times on New Year’s, I’m looking for a really mellow hang – a good party, good friends, pretty chill. Some of my best New Year’s – it doesn’t make for great radio – but some of my best New Year’s have been just like actually hearing fireworks go off while I’m in bed, [laughs] and know I’m gonna wake up the next morning for the first day of the New Year feeling great, feeling recharged and I’m ready to go and go into the New Year feeling good as opposed to going into it with a giant Jagerbomb hangover, which I’ve done many, many times. So, the goal this year is to go into it feeling pretty good and the kids help with that, because you really just don’t want to be hungover with children. It’s not a good feeling. You would probably admit to any crime to get them, just feel better, and get them leave you alone.”
Eric Church (hangover cure) OC: …every time. :17
“The best hangover cure – I’ve got two. One is 5-hour Energy [bottles], because of all the B-vitamins that are in it. You can start pounding those, and it’s either gonna work, or it’s gonna keep you up and prolong your misery. But the other one I have is just take two Advil and a beer in the morning. Hair of the dog, man – that works every time.”
Jon Pardi (hangover cure) OC: …deal with it. :20
“My hangover cure is Bloody Marys, but be careful – because once you have a couple, don’t go to beer, because if you go to beer, you’re gonna start drinking again and you’ll end up a morning drunk. OR if you want to go the non-alcoholic route, there’s nothing you can do for hangovers. [laughs] You just go deal with it.”
Kacey Musgraves (hangover cure) OC: …water. Yup! :32
“Coconut water is a major help with hangovers and also, a lot of times we go and eat Vietnamese fuh. It’s a soup, and it’s got this awesome broth. You can get different things in it or whatever, but for some reason, it’s just like…it’s almost like a chicken noodle soup kind of an idea, you know, but it’s good. That’s good for hangovers too. That, sleep, Tylenol, coconut water and just water, in general. And when you’re drinking, have your alcohol, drink a little bit of water, drink some more alcohol, drink some water. Yup!”
Keith Urban (playing Nashville 2019) OC: …getting to do it. :
“I love it. I love playing in Nashville. I’ve lived here now 27 years. I’ve lived here longer than I lived in Australia, which is crazy, you now? Playing New Year’s Eve is awesome because you never know what to expect from year to year. This’ll be our fourth year doing it. We have Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires this year and a bunch of other people. There’s a whole bunch of people at this show. It’s free and the town gets behind it in a big way. It just feels like a, I don’t know, it just feels like a big Nash love fest really for me. I love it. I love getting to do it.”
Kip Moore (avoiding hangovers on NYE) OC: …yourself. :03
“Pace yourself on New Year’s – that’s the remedy. Pace yourself.”
Luke Bryan (New Years-best) OC: …great night. :17
“My best New Year’s Eve is definitely when my wife and I started back dating. We started back dating right before Christmas, and we went on a trip down to Florida and met some friends. And her birthday is New Year’s Eve. We celebrated it that night. It was just a great night.”
Travis Denning (favorite New Year’s Eve party) OC: …it was good. :41
“I think my favorite New Year’s Eve party ever was when my sister got married, and my sister’s party got done at 10:30, 10:45 and she got married right behind a little club that I played a lot in Macon, Georgia called the Crazy Bull and love the owner. We’re boys, you know? So, we just literally walked right over and burned the house down. That was one of my favorite New Year’s Eve memories, ‘cause I got to see my sister and brother-in-law get married and that was such a great, great time, and then me and my older cousin and best friend, we ended up at Waffle House that night, so it was good.”
Travis Denning (hangover cure) OC: …me better. :17
“You know, I think my hangover cure is just sitting on my butt, [laughs] not doing anything. Drink some water, a cup of coffee, but usually anything greasy or just some big ole Mexican food that’ll get me at least to a nap, which will get me better.”
Travis Denning (wants to get dressed up for New Year’s Eve) OC: …good for it. :13
“No matter what I do for New Year’s Eve, I want to get dressed up. I want to wear a suit. I want to get real snazzied up, and I don’t care if I’m just going to a bar. Like, it’s New Year’s Eve, let’s look good for it.”