I never look back, Gary Allan sings on “As the Crow Flies,” one of two new tracks included on his first greatest-hits album. True enough. As the singles collected here demonstrate, Gary has spent the last decade crafting an endlessly intriguing persona: The driven, restless, charismatic drifter, a man haunted by the memory of lost love, yet determinedly unsentimental and prone to disappear like “Smoke Rings in the Dark.”
Given how consistent that point of view remains throughout these 15 tracks, and how well they hold together as a coherent body of work, it’s surprising to note that Gary wrote not one of his hits—a fact that testifies to the way humanity and soul exude from his burnt-sienna voice. The sappy “Tough Little Boys” is the exception that proves the rule—it sticks out like a sore thumb among these songs because, well, it’s just not very Gary. It’s the only track here that practically any of his contemporaries could have delivered as convincingly.
Greatest Hits scoops up each of Gary’s Top 40 hits—a generous act in itself, but one that puts a drag on the pacing. (Who knew he had released so many ballads?) The new tracks pick up that slack somewhat, especially the galloping hit “A Feelin’ Like That.” The strength of the new songs suggests that, even as he surveys his past, Gary is ready for the future.