Tough All Over, Allan's overwhelming sixth collection, on MCA Nashville, is true to all aspects of Allan's past work, beliefs, and successes. He remains a staunch believer in risk-taking tunes, evidenced here particularly by the forceful "He Can't Quit Her," which sees love as addiction, and "Nickajack Cave (Johnny Cash's Redemption)," which portrays a dramatic turning point in the late country legend's life after drugs and alcohol had "him strung out on the ropes."
But Tough All Over also moves on. Previous Allan albums presented his music as the play of a mainstream Nashville artist making his strong and sweet peace with California country traditions stretching from the rich balladry of Roy Orbison to the ornery truths of Haggard and Owens to the post-punk roots allegiances of the Blasters and X.
That play is now gone. In its place is a fully integrated command of California and Nashville country that leaps out as Gary Allan music at its most immediate, satisfying, and mature.
For Allan, Tough All Over has become his favorite record; he describes the final sessions now as "the most expensive therapy I've ever had." He worked, after all, with the same group of musicians -- among them keyboardist Steve Nathan, drummer Chad Cromwell, electric guitarist Brent Rowan, bass player Michael Rhodes, acoustic guitarists Jake Kelly and John Willis, percussionist Eric Darken, fiddle player Hank Singer and steel player Robby Turner -- that he had been friends with and recorded with since his very first studio album.