THE ALBUMS -- Kenny Rogers, "Kenny," United Artists (L00-979) and "The Gambler" U.A. (LA 934-H); Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, "Classics," U.A. (LA 946-H).; THE SHOW -- Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, Wednesday at 8, Capital Centre.
Kenny Rogers, the master of pop-country crossover, will bring his husky crooning to the Capital Centre this Wednesday, along with sidekick Dottie West. It's hard to say which album this tour is plugging: three of Rogers' latest are riding the charts: "Kenny," "The Gambler" and "Ten Years of Gold." And a fourth, "Classics," with West, slipped from the top-100 LPs but is still kicking around area record stores.
Rogers is nothing if not a crowd pleaser. Keeping pace with the rest of country music, his style has shifted over the years from Nashville to Vegas. Nowadays, he regularly turns up on the TV talk show circuit and delivers slick pop productions. While country music purists may be put off by his changes, he's now in the realm of mass appeal.
On "Kenny," the best album of the lot, Rogers is strongest when he sticks close to his country roots. "Goodbye Marie" is one tune where he still creates a mournful Southern feeling, singing of "three weeks of lovin', 21 nights of heaven." Similarly, a ballad about the "Coward of the County" takes advantage of Rogers' specialty: storytelling with honest-to-gosh country morals.(In this case: "Sometimes you gotta fight when you're a man.")
But more often Rogers gets hung up in breezy MOR arrangements, wincing on the high notes while reaching for crossover appeal. For instance, "Santiago Midnight Moonlight" is a medium-fast top-tapper with medium-loud drum and medium-cool synthesizer touches. It's perfect AM radio fodder.
"The Gambler" LP is similarly packed with songs about forgivin' women and goodtimin' men, but only a couple songs stand out. The title track advises "you gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em" and is applicable, it seems, to cards, women and life in general. Each cut supports the Rogers nice guy/macho man image. "Tennessee Bottle" talks about stealin', killin' and learning' lessons, with a clear rock influence. And "Morgana Jones," the last track on the LP, even delves into a jazzy George Benson-like guitar solo -- which tells you just how many bases Rogers has covered.
(The charismatic Kenny will soon be in a movie called "The Gambler" which shows what Hollywood thinks diluted country sound will do at the box office.)
On "Classics," Rogers and West try to breathe new life into a batch of old songs, though without much inspiration. (West, incidentally, is best known for "Country Sunshine," now an advertising theme song.) When the duo sings Buck Owens' "Together Again" or Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are," these soulful tunes come out sweet and shallow. Those who liked Sonny and Cher singing "All I'll Ever Need Is You" are bound to enjoy Kenny and Dottie's version, too. If your're of the pop persuasion, this rehashing of familiar numbers by two polished country performers is for you.
Ultimately, one cut on "The Gambler" reflects Rogers' self-righteous streak. Titled "Making Music for Money," the song rails against an agent's advice that the singer try to be more commercial. The steadfast star responds that he's "gonna make my music for me." It's a fine tune, but doesn't Kenny feel sheepish about singing it in a tuxedo on his network special, while his real-life agent must be noting the progress of his albums on the charts?