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POP MUSIC REVIEW : Fans Glad for Kenny’s 65 Minutes

It’s not Kenny Rogers’ fault: The singer himself has said repeatedly in interviews that he is only a mediocre talent. Can he help it if people like him? Here the guy goes on stage, gives his adoring fans a solid, sweat-resistant 65 minutes for their $35--even tossing in fog and laser effects--and critics consistently treat him as if he’s the anti-Hank.

What with new traditionalists such as Randy Travis and Dwight Yoakam claiming the recent country charts and awards, and with old traditionalists like Buck Owens returning to the fray, it has been crowed that the time has passed for Rogers and his watered-down ilk.

But that word clearly had not filtered down Saturday to Anaheim’s Celebrity Theatre, where the first of Rogers’ four sold-out shows was accepted with polite rapture by his fans.

Everything that critics revile in Rogers was on display: the most torpid voice this side of Raymond Burr (most evident on a thoroughly zestless cover of Steve Winwood’s “Back in the Highlife”); the innocuous “crossover” material that shrinks from the grit, passion and life of real country; the glib showman who, despite any number of aw-shucks digressions, ends the show exactly within the 65-minute production schedule.

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But that said, Rogers isn’t at all an unpleasant person to spend an hour with. Despite the clockwork brevity of his performance, several of his many interactions with the audience showed self-deprecating wit and spontaneity (a handy thing when dealing with fans who hand him clip-on ties or scrutinize him with binoculars from the 3rd row).

He also fit in 16 songs (minus a verse here and there), with his worn voice doing credible service even to warhorses like “Lady.” He debuted two songs, including a loopy novelty about space cowboys.

Although opener Kathy Mattea has both a strong voice and country-pop material that draws on the better aspects of both fields, her performance was hampered by a too-short 30-minute set and a stilted stage setup.

Her band, like Rogers’, was hidden in the orchestra pit. Unlike Rogers’, Mattea’s group provided an instrumental interplay to her vocals that begged some visual representation.

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Still, she gave charged performances to “Goin’ Gone” and “Eighteen Wheels & a Dozen Roses.”


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