It’s been almost four decades since Kenny Rogers released his first record in 1976, yet the 75-year-old is currently experiencing one of his most noteworthy autumns in recent memory. Set for induction into the Country Music Hall of Fame next week, the Texas native is also celebrating his 22nd Top 10 Country record with the release of his new studio project, You Can’t Make Old Friends.
You Can’t Make Old Friends, which is available now, is Kenny’s first country album since 2006’s Water & Bridges. Working with producers Kyle Lehning (Randy Travis, Ronnie Milsap) and Warren Hartman (Kenny’s 2012 Christian album Amazing Grace), as well as with Dann Huff (Keith Urban, The Band Perry) for select songs, Kenny crafts a thoughtful 11-song collection that stretches from serious to sentimental while remaining consistently diverse.
A title like You Can’t Make Old Friends speaks to a certain level of reflection, and Kenny follows through here as he’s often caught considering his own life as well as those in the world around him. With easygoing acoustic notes on the wise title track, Kenny reprises his harmonic chemistry with Dolly Parton to duet on a moving tribute to lifelong friendships. Kenny’s voice is older on the project, tending toward the lower end of his register, but his command and performance on numbers like the nostalgic “Neon Horses” and the emotional story song “You Had To Be There” hits somewhere between Kris Kristofferson and Whisperin’ Bill Anderson. Powerful and provocative, “You Had To Be There” is more than just a great country song, it’s an important one as Kenny relates the damage a son endures due to an absent father who’s locked away in prison.
Kenny doesn’t shy from hard topics on You Can’t Make Old Friends. The thundering “Turn This World Around” burns strong over a modern rock-leaning arrangement and a meticulous vocal. Depictions of a world gone mad move quickly as electric guitars and B-3 organs scream. The Southwestern “Dreams of the San Joaquin,” which even features a verse in Spanish, ponders the American Dream sought by so many immigrants while the hard country “It’s Gonna Be Easy Now” is anything but what it’s title suggests. Kenny’s dynamic and rough vocal delivers a punch to pair with the song’s deadly stomp. I’ve been sittin’ up wide awake thinkin’ about what will be/Gotta make some changes before it gets the best of me, he sings with conviction.
Songs like the patriotic “’Merica” and nostalgic “Look At You” are met with soul and feeling as Kenny turns phrases with ease. His voice might be slightly weathered, but Kenny uses it to his advantage on intimate arrangements like the Bryan Adams cover “When You Love Someone.” Pedal steel, layered harmonies and a light Western flair reveal the inner country heart beating inside “When You Love Someone” when Kenny rises and falls with the music.
Kenny’s song choices lead to a richly diverse collection. You Can’t Make Old Friends spans from the Cajun-influenced “Don’t Leave Me In The Night Time” (featuring the legendary Buckwheat Zydeco on accordion) to the folk-inspired “All I Need Is One.” And in a month where he will be honored with induction into the Country Music Hall Of Fame, Kenny delivers another reason why he belongs with one of his most varied and strongest sets in years.
Key Tracks – “You Had To Be There,” “Turn This World Around,” “It’s Gonna Be Easy Now,” “’Merica”