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Record Review 

Before country music got overtaken by image-makers and stylists, the difference between a good country record and a bad country record boiled down to one thing -- the quality of the songs. Now that the new-country fad is fading a bit, there's a renewed emphasis on finding good songs. Hopefully, Gary Allan's Alright Guy will be just one terrific example of this turning tide. And with Allan's a smoky voice and bad-boy looks, he'll still appease the folks stuck on those things.

With Alright Guy, Allan's fourth MCA release, he has found a niche that meets the requirements of both casual and hard-core country fans. With plenty of pedal steel and fiddle, he's true to the traditions. But the reverb-heavy vocals and bombastic drums fall in line with so many other new country albums. It's an acceptable compromise that goes down easier as Allan knocks out one great song after another. His edgy take on Harley Allen's "The Devil's Candy" gets balanced by the sweet, slow swing of Roger Brown's "Adobe Walls." And while his cover of Bruce Robison's hilarious tribute "What Would Willie Do?" doesn't quite match the original's honest humor, it is a nice closing touch.

Country music has been going through a painful and difficult metamorphosis. New stars like Gary Allan provide hope the genre will survive with its roots intact.

Gary Allan plays Cowboys Fri., Nov. 9.

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