Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers

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"Laura (What's He Got That I Ain't Got)" and "I Wasn't Man Enough" start off this 1976 self-titled album from the star of the First Edition gone solo. As chronicled in his book, Making It With Music, Rogers figured out how to capitalize on his many years in the recording industry, and these vignettes helped bring country-style story songs to the mainstream Top 40 and adult contemporary radio. While country fans might have had an issue with Aussie lass Olivia Newton-John infiltrating their world back in the day, Rogers' tenure in New Christy Minstrels certainly gave him credibility, as did the earthiness of these performances. Songs like "Mother Country Music" and "While I Play the Fiddle" have an authenticity no alleged carpetbagger could bring to the format. "Why Don't We Go Somewhere and Love" lifts note for note the intro to Harriet Schock's "Ain't No Way to Treat a Lady," the big number one adult contemporary hit for Helen Reddy from the year before. While letting the melody veer off, the songwriters keep the flavor of the Schock masterpiece intact, and it's a good study in songwriters rewriting in a style they admire while giving a tip of the hat (or the hand) in the process. Tom Jones' 1967 hit "The Green Green Grass of Home" gets a more-mellow reading with a less-sweeping arrangement. The formula stretches Count Basie singer O.C. Smith's first hit, "The Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp," almost beyond recognition. Rogers' voice is at the peak of its powers, stronger than before and on par with the superb musicianship behind him. "Till I Get It Right," with its lush strings, becomes almost a theme song for the ups and downs of his previous musical endeavors. All this leads up to "Lucille," that breakthrough hit six and a half years after he charted seven popular songs with his group First Edition. "Lucille" has all the elements of greatness -- a potential one-night stand evaporates and the singer trades sex for heart, becoming a hero in the process. The premise and its hook are unforgettable; simple music dresses up the melody and story by not getting in the way. "Son of Hickory Holler's Tramp" is the reverse of "Lucille," the guy leaving the girl with 14 kids rather than the girl leaving the guy with four. Interesting song order, smart enough to cross genres and open the door to Rogers' impending superstardom. "Lay Down Beside Me," "Puttin' in Overtime at Home," and "While I Play the Fiddle" may not have the genius of "Lucille," but they are consistent with stellar arrangements and can't be called filler. Kenny Rogers worked hard for all he achieved as an entertainer and this album provides any proof that might be needed to silence the skeptics.

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