Album Review: Kenny Rogers’ You Can’t Make Old Friends

ycmofThe new solo album from Kenny Rogers has just been released, and Kenny shows us that he is not someone to rest on his laurels. This is a diverse, sometimes challenging, collection of songs that has the potential of being a big hit.

The title track, “You Can’t Make Old Friends”, is a duet with Dolly Parton. This song is the only concession that Rogers makes to his age and history, and he makes it with one of his most popular partners. Dolly sounds slightly huskier now than she did when they recorded Islands in the Stream” thirty years ago, but both performers are still very capable. This is going to be the first single from this album, but that’s largely for marketing purposes. There are stronger tracks to come.

“All I Need Is One” is a contemporary, up-beat love song with a good hook. It’s an easy song to remember, and an easy song to like. “You Had to Be There” is Kenny Rogers on familiar ground: the storyteller. It tells the tale of an estranged father meeting his imprisoned son, and touches on themes of parenthood and responsibility. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as compelling as earlier Rogers’ stories. The next track is “ ’Merica ”. This is a bluesy patriotic anthem in 6/8. Not really Rogers forte; it would be interesting to see what someone like Michael McDonald or Garth Brooks could do with a song like this.

Perhaps as a complete about face, we are next given “Turn the World Around”. This is a chanted song with a lot of attitude. It’s rather dark, and addresses the ills of society. This may be the strongest song on the album, and if Warner Bros has enough guts this should be the next single. It could be huge if it gets enough promotion to get it some airplay. Next up is a Linda Ronstadt cover, “Dreams of the San Joaquin”. This is a nice, solemn, Latin influenced song, which actually could use a bit more ethnicity to it. It doesn’t quite have the rhythmic qualities that such a song should have. The Spanish lyrics toward the end are well done, though.

The furthest stretch for Rogers is probably the next song, “Don’t Leave Me in the Night Time”. Buckwheat Zydeco comes in to add some Cajun flavor to the proceedings. It’s good, but lacks a bit of the life that one would expect from a Zydeco song. “Look At You” is sure to be a pleaser to long-time Kenny Rogers fans. This love ballad has a very early ’80s feel to it. Speaking of which, the next song is a Bob Seger style blue collar anthem called “Neon Horses”. The Celtic-influenced rhythm guitar and mandolin is a nice touch.

“When You Love Someone” is a bit of a palate cleanser. It’s a slow love ballad, of the type that provides a nice slow dance song just before closing out the bar room. Finally, we have “It’s Gonna Be Easy Now”, which is the style of song that back in the day would have been called “rebel country”. It’s a bluesy, Charlie Daniels style song which Kenny pulls off admirably.

This is a brave effort from Rogers, frequently diving into very non-Rogers areas. And it hits the target more often than not. This is an album that has the 75 year old country crooner saying, “I ain’t done yet.” He challenges us, he challenges himself, and we’re all the better for it.

 

On a scale of 1-10:

Artistic rating – 8

Entertainment rating – 8½