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.”
Here are holiday liners from some UMG Nashville artists, including Adam Hambrick, Alan Jackson, Billy Currington, Brandon Lay, Brothers Osborne, Clare Dunn, Darius Rucker, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church, Gary Allan, George Strait, Jon Pardi, Jordan Davis, Josh Turner, Kassi Ashton, Keith Urban, Kip Moore, Lauren Alaina, Little Big Town, Luke Bryan, Maddie & Tae, Parker McCollum, Sam Hunt, Shania Twain, Travis Denning and more!
“Hey everybody! I’m Adam Hambrick, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hey everybody! I’m Adam Hambrick. Happy Holidays.”
“Hi! This is Alan Jackson, and I’m wishing y’all a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hi! Billy Currington here, wishing you and your family a safe and Happy Holiday Season.”
“Hey! This is T.J., and I’m John, and we are Brothers Osborne, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hi! I’m Carrie Underwood, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! What’s up? This is Clare Dunn, hoping you have a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey y’all! What’s up? This is Darius Rucker, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! This is Dierks Bentley, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hey everybody! It’s Eric Church, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! This is Gary Allan. Merry Christmas.”
“Hey everybody! This is George Strait, wishing you and your family a Happy Holiday season.”
“Hey! This is Jon Pardi, wishing you a Merry Christmas!”
“Hey! I’m Jordan Davis, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! I’m Josh Turner, wishing you and your family a Merry Christmas and a Happy Holiday season.”
“Hey! This is Kacey Musgraves, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hi folks, this is Keith Urban, wishing you and yours a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hi everyone, this is Keith Urban, wishing you and all your family the very best this holiday season.”
“Hey guys, this is Kip Moore, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! This is Lauren Alaina, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! We’re Little Big Town, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! It’s Luke Bryan, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hi! We’re Maddie & Tae, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey! It’s Mickey Guyton, wishing you a Merry Christmas.”
“Hey everybody! This is Sam Hunt, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hi! This is Shania Twain, wishing you a very Merry Christmas.”
“Hey I’m Adam Hambrick, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hi! This is Alan Jackson. I hope y’all have a very happy Thanksgiving out there.”
“Hey Guys, I’m Billy Currington. Have a great Thanksgiving.”
“Hey y’all! This is Brandon Lay. Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey! This is TJ, and this is John, and we’re wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hi! I’m Carrie Underwood, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
Hey y’all This is Caylee Hammack, wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey! This is Clare Dunn, wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hey y’all! What’s up? This is Darius Rucker, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hey! It’s Dierks Bentley! Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hey folks! It’s Eric Church, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey guys! Gary Allan here. I just want to wish everybody a Happy Thanksgiving, and have a Happy Holidays and make sure you’re safe out there. Drive safe. Party your butts off, but do it safe.”
“Hi! This is George Strait, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey everybody, what’s up? We’re Hootie & the Blowfish, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
Hey y’all, I’m Jon Langston, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.
“Hey! It’s Jon Pardi, wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey I’m Jordan Davis. Happy Thanksgiving, everybody.”
“Hey y’all I’m Josh Turner, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey! It’s Kacey Musgraves, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Happy Thanksgiving everybody. It’s Keith Urban here. I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all of you listening for your incredible love and support that I’ve received over the last year, and to wish you and all of your family all the very best for this holiday.”
“Hey what’s up guys, this is Kip Moore wishing you a very happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey! This is Lauren Alaina, wishing you a very Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hey, we’re Little Big Town. Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hey! It’s Luke Bryan, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving!”
“Hey everybody! I’m Maddie, and I’m Tae, and we’re Maddie & Tae, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey! It’s Mickey Guyton here, and I want to wish you a very Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey everybody. I’m Parker McCollum, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey everybody! This is Sam Hunt, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
“Hey y’all! It’s Travis Denning, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving.”
Several artists have been added to this year’s CMT Artists of the Year show, including performances by Sam Hunt, Carrie Underwood (live-streamed from her Cry Pretty Tour 360 show in Cleveland, Ohio), Dan + Shay, Thomas Rhett, Kane Brown, Ashley McBryde and more. Presenters include Vince Gill and Maddie & Tae. This year’s special celebrates the network’s five Artists of the Year – Carrie Underwood, Dan + Shay, Luke Combs, Thomas Rhett and Kane Brown – in addition to Reba McEntire (Artist of a Lifetime) and Ashley McBryde (Breakout Artist of the Year). The 90-minute show will air Wednesday (October 16th) at 8pm ET.
Luke Bryan’s hit “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye” was just certified double platinum by the R.I.A.A., while his “Someone Else Calling You Baby” was just declared platinum. Jon Pardi’s “Up All Night” and Billy Currington’s “Don’t It” were also certified platinum, while Gary Allan’s “It Ain’t the Whiskey,” Eric Church’s “Some of It,” Luke’s “Drinkin’ Beer & Wasting Bullet” and Sam Hunt’s “Downtown’s Dead” were all certified gold.
Jon Pardi will perform on ABC’s Good Morning America on Friday (October 18th).
Brothers Osborne will perform at the Troy Gentry Foundation’s C’Ya on the Flip Side II February 5th at the Grand Ole Opry House, along with Trace Adkins, Rhett Akins, Tracy Lawrence, Justin Moore, Mark Wills and Eddie Montgomery. The benefit will raise funds for the Foundation, the Opry Trust Fund, T.J. Martell Foundation, Make-A-Wish, St Jude Children’s Research Hospital and many others.
New EMI Nashville Recording Artist Kylie Morgan is one of three recipients of the second annual CMA KixStart Artist Scholarship. Over the next year, the CMA will provide support, connections with top industry professionals, participation in CMA-related events and a stipend to assist with their developing careers. She is currently opening several shows for Kip Moore and released a song “Boys Girl” to all digital partners.