Gary Allan 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 four #1 singles – "Man To Man," "Tough Little Boys," "Nothing On But The Radio" and "Watching Airplanes" – 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."

Charlie Worsham

For the last seven years, singer-songwriter Charlie Worsham has devoted himself to honing his musical vision by collaborating with many of the most innovative musicians in Nashville today, working as both a session player and writer, while serving as a central member of a high-profile band of players. Now, the 27-year-old multi-instrumentalist is gearing up to release his debut album – Rubberband on August 20th via Warner Bros. Records – which not only reveals his refined musical talent, but announces Worsham as a country artist of uncommon ingenuity, substance, and soul. Joined by musicians carefully assembled through his years of dedication to the Nashville scene, as well as through his studies at Berklee College of Music, Worsham infuses each track on Rubberband with a reverence for country’s rich heritage while ultimately delivering a bold sound entirely his own.

“They say you’ve got your whole life to make your first record, and that couldn’t ring more true for me,” says Worsham of Rubberband, which he co-produced with Ryan Tyndell and recorded at engineer Eric Masse’s East Nashville studio. “On this album I took so many things I’d wanted to say in song form for years, and channeled them into lyrics and melodies and guitar solos in a way that shows my influences but also takes some crazy turns.” Worsham also draws immense inspiration from artists of remarkable longevity, such as Vince Gill and Marty Stuart (who once gave Worsham an autograph reading “Follow your heart”—a message Worsham later tattooed onto his arm).

Boundary-pushing but endlessly catchy, Rubberband offers a selection of songs that integrate elements of bluegrass, country, pop and rock and roll. The album also finds Worsham revamping classic country with intricate arrangements, left-of-center flourishes (including guest vocals by indie vocalist Madi Diaz), and deeply inventive riffs. On the album’s title track, “Rubberband,” for instance, Worsham sets the groove with a low-toned guitar lick created by the extremely-warped loose tuning of his E string. “Could It Be,” the album’s first single, opens with a shimmering, delicate tumble of notes achieved with an in-studio experiment playing slide on the mandolin, leading into soaring harmonies. An incurable self-proclaimed gear hound, Worsham favors playing his 1963 Martin D-28 through a pedal board and amplifying the guitar, resulting in a sound that’s a startling departure from traditional acoustic playing.

Along with creating the lushly textured soundscapes on the album, each of Worsham’s songs have a heart-on-your-sleeve emotionalism that showcases his natural storytelling ability. On “Trouble Is,” he weaves scorching electric guitar into delicate acoustic plucking while detailing an encounter with a dangerously irresistible object of affection (“I spend days building up walls/Just for you to tear down/With one touch of your hand”). And on “Mississippi in July,” Worsham spins a gorgeously rendered and regret-soaked tale of returning home for an old flame’s wedding (“My heart might as well be one of those cans tied to the back of your limousine/It was hanging by a thread so I went ahead and cut the string”).

As a songwriter, Worsham builds those varied moods and sounds by mining his expansive musical background and venturing into new sonic territory at the same time. According to Worsham, that sense of adventurousness is fueled by a passion for music that arose at a very early age. “One of my earliest memories of music is going to see my dad play in a local band—he’s a banker by trade, but a drummer at heart,” says Worsham, who grew up 100 miles south of Memphis in Grenada, Mississippi. “During sound check I sat in his lap and hit the drums, and that’s the first time I got the bug to make music.” Worsham began taking piano lessons in kindergarten, and in second grade caught a performance by bluegrass banjo player Mike Snider while visiting Opryland with his family. “When we got home my parents bought me a banjo and got me lessons. After that, I got into the habit of taking on a new instrument every year, including the guitar, mandolin and fiddle,” Worsham recalls. He won the Junior National Banjo Championship at age 12 and later that year, joined Snider on stage at the Grand Ole Opry.

In high school, Worsham scored his first electric guitar by busking in front of a guitar shop to raise the final hundred bucks on the price tag and joined a band. After graduating, he headed for Berklee, but left after two and a half years to move to Nashville to pursue music. Along with working as a writer—as well as a session musician for Eric Church, Dierks Bentley, and others artists—Worsham continued penning his own songs and recording demos, eventually landing a deal with Warner Music Nashville and opening on tour for the likes of Taylor Swift and Miranda Lambert.

Considering Worsham’s musical history, it’s no wonder that Rubberband emerges as such a sophisticated yet refreshingly simple collection of songs. “For me, the best songwriting comes when you get out of your own way and let the lyrics and music happen together,” he says. “Those moments are pretty elusive—they kind of strike like lightning—but when it happens, it’s amazing.” And in the recording studio, he adds, a number of “beautiful accidents” went a long way in helping to shape the album’s sound. “It’s that sort of unplanned thing that happens when old friends and new friends get in a room and make music together,” Worsham explains.

That sense of community—and the creativity it breeds—is crucial to Worsham as he forges ahead with his musical career. “I feel really lucky to have been a part of the Nashville music scene for a while now and have worn all these different hats. I gained a broader perspective on the importance of surrounding yourself with other musicians you know and trust,” he says. “One of my main goals as a musician is to respect the past of country music as well as its future.” Worsham adds, “I hope that I can someday be one of those folks who represent the music in a greater sense, and carry it somewhere forward that’s different and exciting.”

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