January 14, 1985 12:00 PM

Mark Gray

Allen, 30, and Gray, 32, are two of Nashville’s most successful composers. Allen has written or co-written hits for Janie Fricke (Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me Baby), John Conlee (I’m Only in It for the Love), and Diana Ross (You Do It). Gray has contributed to the libraries (and bank accounts) of Fricke (It Ain’t Easy Bein’ Easy) and Alabama (The Closer You Get). Both Allen and Gray have also maintained middling singing careers, but they are only now making a real push to sell themselves as well as their music. The Memphis-born Allen, who had a substantial success last year with her single Baby I Lied, seems to be crossover-minded. The jacket photos on Let Me Be the First (RCA) show her without anything like a traditional country singer’s getup. In fact, they show her without any get up at all, lounging sleepily in bed. The music also is a lot closer to Los Angeles rock than it is Nashville. I Can’t Stand It and You Do It, for instance, are driving-straight-ahead pop performances and even Heartache and a Half, which sounds like a country title, doesn’t have much in the way of twang—instrumental or vocal. All that notwithstanding, this is an entertaining, energetic album; just don’t buy it expecting to hear the new Kitty Wells. Gray, who is from Vicksburg, Miss., stays a little more in character on This Ol’ Piano (Columbia). His voice has a gruff, lived-in appeal not unlike Joe Cocker’s, though Gray’s throat seems to have been treated with a slightly finer grain of sandpaper. He also writes intelligent, literate tunes on this LP, such as Twenty Years Ago and Lonely People, though Smooth Sailing, with its lines about rocky roads, is best reserved for mixed metaphor fans. There’s also a pleasant duet with Tammy Wynette on the Dan Hill/ Barry Mann song Sometimes When We Touch, a 1978 hit for Hill. The title song is really the highlight, laying bare, as the best country songs do, the ragged edges of human emotions

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