Gary Allan has been all over the country map since he began recording in 1996. He's made slick Nash Vegas records, hard honky tonk records, and ballad records. With Tough All Over, he's made enough of a mark that he gets to release the album he's wanted to make all along. Evidence is in the title cut, which opens the set. Written by Odie Blackmon and Jim Lauderdale, it's a hard roots rocker in the vein of the Blasters' more adventurous moments, with edgy electric guitars, hard, clipped snare drums, a harmonica, and even a Hammond B-3. Yeah, there's a fiddle here, but it's hardly of consequence. This is rock & roll complete with shaking tambourines. "Just Got Back from Hell," driven simply by a National Steel before the guitars start to roar and the pedal steel and B-3 start to whine and whinny, is a gorgeous country song that keeps its focus on tradition while looking toward the future. The shape-shifting early-'60s rock at the heart of "Ring" (written by Kostas) wouldn't be out of place on an Everly Brothers or Del Shannon record had they used a pedal steel to carry the backdrop of the tune. The Fender Telecaster is trebly and raw and stands in sharp contrast to the slick on-the-spot vocals. But that's not to say that Allan has abandoned the ballads that have made his name; far from it. "Promises Broken," "Life Ain't Always Beautiful," and "What Kind of Fool," with its finger-plucked single banjo line, are tight, full of emotion and romantic pathos. But it's the rockers, which also include the 21st century rockabilly of "Nick Jack Caver" and the roiling, guitar-wailing, Southern rock-driven "He Can't Quit Her," that hold the most attention. The album's closer, "Putting My Misery on Display," begins simply as a ballad and becomes a rock power ballad. Whether the public will receive Allan's offering is another question, but musically and artistically, it's the most consistent -- yet slick -- record he's ever done.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek