The Good: Good vocals, Good lyrics, Catchy tunes
The Bad: DREADFULLY short, Very much incomplete
The Basics: A disappointing album more for what is absent than what is present, 20 Great Years undersells the career of Kenny Rogers.
Once in a while, I encounter an album that is so simple, it leaves me with very little to actually write about. When there is no original content on a work, it is hard to make it stretch and in the case of the Kenny Rogers album 20 Great Years, I see little point in trying. My wife picked the album up when we were out a few months ago and I listened to it in pretty heavy rotation as I've worked. The truth is, it is not a bad album.
However, the ten-track compilation album is entirely lackluster when one looks at both the musical career of Kenny Rogers and when stacked up against other compilations. Taking a twenty year career and reducing it to ten songs (and not including "Islands In The Stream") seems both thoughtless and pointless. There are vastly better Kenny Rogers compilations on the market which have more songs than this album does.
With only ten songs occupying a little more than thirty-eight minutes, this is a poor collection of the works of Kenny Rogers. While it includes many of Rogers' most popular and recognizable songs, like "The Gambler" and "She Believes In Me," it has Rogers only as a performer of other people's works. If he ever wrote any of his own work, one would think even one song ought to make it onto a compilation. As it stands, 20 Great Years features only the vocal talents of Kenny Rogers, not his instrument-playing abilities or songwriting prowess. Rogers sings only; he was not involved in the production of any of the singles or the album.
Instrumentally, Kenny Rogers is accompanied most frequently by guitars or the piano. His style of song is generally one of musical storytelling, so the musical accompaniment on some of the songs is minimal. "Coward Of The County" is almost amelodic, whereas "Lucille" has the sweeps and falls of a sea chantey or drinking song. Rogers was at the forefront of the popular Country revival that preceded Billy Ray Cyrus and Reba McEntire, so some of his songs include synthesizers and "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer" has a full orchestra backing it. Songs range from ditties ("Daytime Friends") to undancable emotional outcries ("Something's Burning").
Vocally, Kenny Rogers has a somewhat limited range, but he still sounds great. Rogers sings low, but exceptionally clear. He has an almost Folk way of presenting many of his songs such that each and every word may be perfectly understood. Accompanied as he is by instruments which he has the vocal power to overwhelm, Kenny Rogers is a fine vocalist who is able to tell a great story clearly, as he does on "The Gambler" and "Coward Of The County."
Beyond that, Rogers is able to emote and really put his back into his vocals. When he sings "Don't Fall In Love With A Dreamer" with Kim Carnes, he holds notes and the strain and effort in his voice may be heard. It makes the wrenching nature of the song work, however and listeners are likely to appreciate how much emotion Rogers is able to express. He is able to have both force and a level of excitement in his voice when he sings "You Decorated My Life" and that makes him extraordinary.
Thematically, Kenny Rogers is a Country music storyteller. His songs are essentially life lessons about knowing when to quit ("The Gambler"), standing up for oneself and others ("Coward Of The County") and infidelity ("Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town," "Daytime Friends"). The album is a pretty even mix of Country storysongs and Country love ballads (like "You Decorated My Life" and "Something's Burning"). And to the credit of Kenny Rogers, he knows how to pick songs that he can make sound good!
But even with the quality of what is here on this mix, it is hard not to feel cheated. The album is dreadfully short - there is now a 50 years collection that has far more than this album does - and those who enjoy Kenny Rogers' smooth style of musical storytelling are much more likely to want more of it than this ten-track "sampler" offers.
The best track is "The Gambler," the low point is "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love To Town," though there are honestly not really any bad tracks on the album.
For other Country music works or male vocalists, please check out my reviews of:
Little Bit Of Everything - Billy Currington
Dusk And Summer - Dashboard Confessional
No Name Face - Lifehouse
For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here for a neat listing of all I have reviewed organized for ease of finding the reviews!
© 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.