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October 17, 2013

Gary Allan rides high in country music’s expanding landscape

Country music’s big tent — to borrow a political phrase — will put Gary Allan and Sheryl Crow under the same roof for Friday night’s concert in Terre Haute.

The roof above Hulman Center, that is. Allan, a veteran of country’s edgier side, has been joined by Crow, a singer-songwriter of rock and folk-pop, on their Free and Easy Tour. Their show begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Hulman Center, with opening act Maggie Rose.

The reception has been “unbelievable,” Allan said in a phone interview last week.

In one city, the crowd may be primarily attracted by Crow, and in the next it might be Allan. “We’re flip-flopping every night, it feels like,” he said. “It feels good to get a crack at her audience.”

Their tour coincides with the release of Crow’s first official country album, “Feels Like Home.” Her first official country single, “Easy,” has hit the Billboard Country Top 20. Meanwhile, Allan is riding high on the charts with his latest album, “Set You Free,” which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Country chart and the Billboard 200.

Ironically, the blending of genres under the term “country” became a hot topic, as the result of an interview Allan gave to talk show host Larry King. In it, King calls country an amalgam. Allan agreed. When asked if Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift are country, Allan answered, “I would say, no. I would say they’re pop artists making a living in the country genre.”

The comments generated plenty of buzz in country music circles. Allan later clarified his intention and even sent a handwritten letter to country music stations, trying to emphasize that the genre has evolved, and that even his own current music “bears little resemblance to the country music I grew up on.”

Speaking by telephone at few days later to the Tribune-Star, Allan said, “Our genre is more broad-based now, and I don’t mind that. It’s not the kind of country I listened to as a kid. But it’s also not the country I was playing 15 years ago.”

The songs he’s playing now — written or co-written by Allan — brim with more optimism than some of his past hits, which include “Man to Man,” “Tough Little Boys,” “Nothing on But the Radio,” “Watching Airplanes” and “Right Where I Need to Be.” The new album shows Allan rising from personal adversities, exemplified by the single, “Every Storm (Runs Out of Rain).”

“I’m in a really good place right now,” the 45-year-old Californian said, “and I think it shows.”

Songwriting differs when spirits are high, he acknowledged, and can be difficult in trying to appeal to listeners. Writing an optimistic song, though, “seems easy,” he said.

When he’s on his own lately, Allan listens to satellite radio — rock or country — and albums by The Band, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings and the Foo Fighters. The encroachment of other genres into country is nothing new, he pointed out. Country has always had a pop influence, Allan said, “and back in the day, Johnny Cash was considered pop. It’s funny that people get so worked up about it.”

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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