There are some singers you generally shou
ldn’t touch if you don’t want to your rendition to be remembered for second-bestness. You shouldn’t touch Patsy, you shouldn’t touch Connie, you shouldn’t touch Merle, you shouldn’t touch Reba, you shouldn’t touch Wynonna, you shouldn’t touch Trisha, you shouldn’t touch either George. And you shouldn’t touch Gary Allan.
Okay, to his credit, Stone actually has some nice moments in this attempt at the honky-tonk weeper that most notably appeared on Allan’s Smoke Rings in the Dark. He’s always had one of the prettier voices in the business, and the first verse of his reading suggests he might use that quality to offer a different interpretive take on the song than Allan’s appropriately gritty vocal did. Perhaps, you think, Stone will focus on the shocked vulnerability of the drunk driver as he realizes he is near death and utters his empathic last words. Or perhaps he’ll make the whole situation sound more angelic and dreamlike, like it’s such an intensely emotional moment that it doesn’t even seem to be of this world.
But when that crucial phrase comes in the chorus, all the tension just seems to dissipate. Stone’s technical performance is hard to fault, even as he litters it with lots of little slurs that make him sound like he’s practicing to become the male McEntire. But interpretively, forget it. He sings sweetly, like he recognizes this is a sad song, but Allan sang like he actually watched it happen. “Don’t Tell Mama” is the kind of piece that requires a master interpreter to unlock its full sentimental value, and for that, you gotta have Gary.
Written by Buddy Brock, Jerry Laseter & Kim Williams
Listen: Don’t Tell Mama
Ty Herndon actually recorded this song before BOTH Gary and Doug, even if his version is nothing near theirs.
I realize that, Matt, but I think Gary’s version is the best and most well-remembered, hence my saying in the review that the song “most notably” appeared on his album.
I’m not a fan of this song all around, but Gary’s version is definitely the superior cut of this song out of all of them.
Good Lord. He does sound like a male McEntire.
No comparison…Gary nails it, as always.
I’m jumping on the Gary bandwagon as well. No contest.
yall be crazy.
though I’m something of a Gary Allen fan (he’s my fav of the mainstream guys) I would really hesitate to put him into a “so good he retires a song” category. His “Wine Me Up” was forgettable, and The Steeldrivers had no problem getting out of his shadow with “Drinking Dark Whiskey”
so yeah, comparing him as a vocalist to Patsy Cline, Connie Smith, Merle Haggard, or George Jones is teh crazy.
as far as this version, all I have to go on is the snippet, but Stone’s voice sounds pretty incredible, though I could see how Gary’s gritty quality may add a nice touch to the song. I’d have to hear the whole thing to really judge it, or at least a chorus.
but yeah, Gary Allen – Connie Smith/George Jones/Patsy Cline/Merle Haggard level singer-interpreter?
not by a longshot man, not even close.
I do agree that The SteelDrivers stole “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey” from Gary Allan. Gary’s still got a lot to prove, but he’s definitely leagues better than Doug Stone.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think every time Gary Allan records any song it’ll become the definitive version. I don’t think I could say that about any vocalist, not even the others mentioned in the review. But I do think it’s generally a bad idea to sing something he’s cut, because he’s definitely grown into a different interpretive league than most of his contemporaries (although I don’t think he’s always been there, especially on earlier stuff pre-Smoke Rings). As to whether or not his skills can stand up against those of the all-time greats, I guess we’ll have to see how history treats him. I think he’s one of the best interpretive male singers the genre has ever seen, personally, but perhaps I’d feel differently if some of the greats had been recorded with the same ultra-clear technology that he has.
And I think the Steeldrivers’ version of “Drinkin’ Dark Whiskey” can stand up comfortably against Gary’s because a) the arrangement is significantly different, unlike with Stone’s take on “Don’t Tell Mama” and b) let’s face it: Chris Stapleton is also an unusually awesome singer.
But anyway, I see how the review did make it sound like all of the singers I listed can retire a song every single time, which I guess I did for dramatic effect more than anything. So I’ve tweaked it bit to reflect my actual opinion, haha. Now it says “generally”
The most exciting thing about this to me is that Doug Stone has a new single. I, too, like Gary’s version better but I’m thrilled to know that Doug is back at it again. I always liked him and his voice.
I agree Dan. Once Gary has interpreted a song, it should be left alone. I hope history treats Gary more kindly than the current award shows do.
I like your modification Dan, and I think I should say that I’m by and large against the idea that songs shouldn’t be covered for fear of second-bestness.
I guess I’m the lone dissent in preferring Doug Stone’s version of the song. If Doug had recorded it as an acoustic effort, just him and his guitar (as he often performs it in concert), then you’d be asking Gary Who ??????. Doug is simply that much better as a vocalist. Unknown to most, Doug Stone is almost up there with Brad Paisley and Keith Urban as a guitar player, particularly on acoustic
I am a big fan of Gary Allan but there are any number of songs he’s performed that I could hear others doing better. On the other hand songs like “Smoke Rings In The Dark” belong to Gary Allan
The thing about Doug is that he’s often too syruppy, balad happy. I liked him a long time ago, but it’s not the same when I revisit his music now. After I discount all of the slow, sappy stuff, there’s not much left for me to work with. I do think he has a very nice voice and I did not realize he was such a good guitar player, but I’m always going to associate him with “Too Busy Being In Love”, even though he has great songs like “I’d Be Better Off In A Pine Box.” So, I might just be prejudiced, I’ll admit. I think a song like this one calls for a less syruppy reading than Doug Stone gives it, though he does it rather nicely.
I heard Doug sing this song at the Opry and thought it was beautiful. Months later I happened to buy Gary’s CD Smoke Rings In The Dark…Gary’s version blew me away. His gritty vocals and the emotion he put into it made me cry. Awesome job..Personally I don’t know who the Steeledrivers are and I may feel different if I heard them but DDW happens to be one of my favs of Gary. Love it in concert.
And a big WELCOME BACK to Doug Stone..
I vote for Doug Stone. It’s bullshit radio doesn’t give his new music a chance.
Doug Stone George Jones Randy Travis Vince Gill don’t get their new music on the air cause they can sing and their music is better than what radio and Nashville wants people to buy.