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Story by David Scarlett

Gary Allan's fans will no doubt love every tune on his new Alright Guy album, but he just may have to do a little fence mending with one very important fan - his mama, Mary - over the lyrics on a couple of the CD's songs.

She's gotta be happy with "Right Where I Need To Be," his Top 5 single from the near-platinum Smoke Rings In The Dark album, as well as his new album's first single, "Man Of Me," now nearing the Top 20 on the charts.

But it seems Gary's mother is less than thrilled with a couple of cuts on the new album, in particular the title track and "What Would Willie Do," a good-natured homage to one of Gary's musical heroes - and his famous hemp-loving pastime.

"Someday, I'm gonna make an album called Songs My Mom Hates," laughs Gary.

(Hmmmm, sounds like she might have expressed her opinions on his music once or twice before!)

But neither Gary's mother nor his fans should be too surprised that this singer's got an independent streak in him. After all, the one-line dedication on his new album says just about everything you need to know about who his influences are, and why he looks at music - and life - the way he does.

The album is dedicated to "Willie, Waylon, Johnny, George, Buck & Merle" - not exactly guys known for walking the line. And that's just the way Gary likes it.

"I think when it gets too politically correct and too sterile, it tends to get bland," he explains. "And I don't think that country music was meant to be politically correct. None of my heroes were.

"Haggard and Johnny Cash and Buck and all those guys, they were definitely doing their own thing. And I think that's what everybody liked about 'em.

"I've always kind of danced to my own drum," he continues. "I've always liked to do things my way - for better or worse," he laughs. "And sometimes it is better, sometimes it is worse. And I know it's cost me.

"But people come up to me all the time at shows and say they're starving for something honest, so I just lay it all out there. To me country music is songs about life, and I want to hear the good stories and the bad stories."

Gary also wants to make sure he avoids that "what if?" feeling that would surely haunt him if he put out songs he didn't believe in, and they didn't do well.

"It's absolutely a greater risk to release songs that aren't really me," he declares. " 'Cause if it didn't work, then I'd be thinkin', 'Well, hell, I didn't like it either!' I've listened to country music my whole life, so I think I have a pretty good grip on what people respond to."

His years playing in honky-tonks before accepting a record deal helped him fine-tune that song sense.

"That experience absolutely helps," explains Gary. "When I hear songs, I can picture how they would go over with audiences. I can picture singing them to people.

"I may not have that good a grip on what radio will play, but I think I know what people will respond to if they do play it."

The audiences who've heard his new stuff so far apparently agree with him.

It's been going over huge!" says Gary with a smile. "Especially since we've been in front of those Texas crowds so much. Doing things like 'What Would Willie Do' at the Willie Nelson picnic - in front of Willie Nelson. Could there possibly be a better audience for that?" he laughs.

Gary's also given a few overseas crowds a taste of his music, with recent trips to Australia and Switzerland - for the Gstaad Festival with Sara Evans and Collin Raye - and the UK, where he played for a packed house at The Borderline in London.

The trip Down Under was Gary's second, and he played at one of Australia's two largest country festivals.

"It was an absolute blast! Huge!" recalls Gary. "The Gympie Muster festival had probably 40 to 50,000 people."

Any concerns about how the content of his songs would be received in another part of the world?

"All you can do is just go put it all out there, and they either like you or they don't. If they don't, I guess that saves you the trip next year," laughs Gary.

Given the way Gary likes to spend every moment of his spare time, he might not be too eager to book another date to fill an opening.

"I go to the beach and surf - all I can!" declares the Southern California native emphatically. "It hasn't been too good this week, but I hear there's a swell coming, so hopefully over the next couple of days, I'll get in some serious surfing."

He shrugs off any concerns about an uninvited dorsal fin with a lot more confidence than the average non-surfer might think possible.

"All the shark problems this year have been on the East Coast," he says with a smile. "I'll be fine."

With the surf calling his name, Gary takes a moment to speculate about possible future singles before heading to the beach.

Is there even a ghost of a chance that "Alright Guy" - with its playful references to a freewheeling, law-skirting lifestyle - might be among them?

"You know what," declares Gary, "I think it might. I think there's people out there starvin' for that, and if the song went to No. 30, it might sell a million records.

"I'm sure radio would want us to change some lyrics, but I don't know what we'd do."

Cover your ears, Mom!