Kenny Rogers tried everything possible at the Capital Centre last night to distract attention from his limited singing ability. He entered to a laser light show. He roamed the circular, center-of-arena stage alone above his pit band, bantering with the crowd. He even showed movie clips from his TV specials as he sang. Just the same, one couldn't help but notice that Rogers only had an effective one-octave range, that he had no sense of dynamics or timbre, and that he sang everything with the same bland, schmaltzy delivery. Moreover his taste in songs ranged from old-fashioned corny--Roger Bowling's "Coward of the County"--to modern corny, Lionel Richie's "Lady."

By contrast, Larry Gatlin--the opening act--has a versatile, velvety voice and writes gorgeous melodies to challenge that voice. He and his brothers--guitarist Rudy and bassist Steve--once formed a childhood gospel trio in Texas. On some songs their splendid voices and country roots were obscured by pop crossover conventions and cliche'd lyrics. On their best songs, though, the country gospel tradition broke through, and Larry's supple voice melted into Rudy's high harmony and Steve's low harmony. The trio's big hit, "All the Gold in California," was revealed as a contagious sing-along hymn with secular lyrics about treasures on earth. The closing a capella hymn, "Hallelujah," was undisguised gospel and a vocal tour de force.