You Can't Make Old Friends

Kenny Rogers

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You Can't Make Old Friends Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

A big-budget Kenny Rogers album is a rare thing in the new millennium. Live albums, Christian records, Cracker Barrel exclusives, and seasonal specials piled up with regularity, but only 2006's Water & Bridges -- a reflective country album released on Capitol Nashville -- qualified as an album with real chart aspirations and 2013's You Can’t Make Old Friends acts as its unofficial sequel, a heavily produced, heavily promoted record designed not to woo back country fans but his crossover audience. To that end, the centerpiece arrives first thing: a sticky, sentimental duet with Dolly Parton on "You Can't Make Old Friends," a song that hazily suggests fond memories of when they sang together on their 30-year-old hit "Islands in the Stream." This album isn't as powerfully melodic as the Bee Gees-written 1983 masterpiece Eyes That See in the Dark but it's surely in the same adult contemporary vein, emphasizing soft surfaces and sweet melodies. There are hints of roots music, arriving either in the incongruous Buckwheat Zydeco cameo on "Don't Leave Me in the Night Time" or the sung Spanish chorus on "Dreams of the San Joaquin," plus there's an undercurrent of red-state conservatism to some songs, culminating in the ersatz blues of "'Merica." These add layers to You Can't Make Old Friends but Kenny feels more comfortable when he's cruising down the middle of the road, singing songs that are as appealing for their feel as their form. Maybe the individual songs aren't so memorable but the overall experience is one smooth ride.

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