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If Gary Allan's third album, 1999's Smoke Rings in the Dark, marked his coming-of-age as an artist, his 2001 disc Alright Guy is a mission statement printed in boldface type. Alright Guy gives mainstream Nashville only a nod, most obviously in the pounding drum sound that's ubiquitous in Music City nowadays. Otherwise Allan stays right where he wants to be: somewhere between Bakersfield and Austin, in a place where pedal steels cry and moan, electric guitars slice and wail, and Allan's sturdy tenor and sly phrasing evoke a classic country image of tough-minded masculinity tempered by an open, loving heart -- one embodied by his California brethren Merle, Buck, and Dwight. The screw-up Allan describes in the wry title song can't figure out why he's been dumped, but when Allan sings, with a hilarious mixture of incomprehension and sincerity, the line "I think I'm an alright guy," you gotta love his blank slate of a mind. That character, in less clueless form, shows up all over the songs here, from the roiling "The Devil's Candy" -- which heightens the story of a fellow who can't resist the dark side with insistent, angular fiddle lines -- to the mournful ballad "What I'd Say," which uses a twangy, lonely guitar to buttress the singer's dilemma over whether to plead for a woman's forgiveness or to tell her to go to hell. The dreamy "Adobe Walls" takes a jazzy turn, and the album closes with Bruce Robison's "What Would Willie Do," a low-key homage to the Red Headed Stranger for his resilience, compassion, and zest for life, no matter the troubles dogging him (some of which are enumerated here). Sounds like Gary Allan's got a plan.