POP MUSIC REVIEW : Romance Works for Rogers

It made sense when Natalie Cole, Sheena Easton and even Robert Palmer followed Linda Ronstadt as contemporary singers doing dramatic about-faces and making albums of pre-1950 romantic standards. But Kenny Rogers?

A certain sophistication, a sense that you belong in the champagne-and-caviar set, is needed to make this stylistic switch work. But Rogers, who premiered his "new" style at the House of Blues on Monday, is an easygoing, earthy, grandfatherly, pop-country singer who suggests beer and pretzels.

Somehow, though, it clicked.

It took a few songs to get used to the new Rogers, who didn't look all that comfortable decked out in a dinner jacket. To enhance his image change, the down-home look of the House of Blues was shifted to a swanky, supper-club atmosphere for this show, which was being taped for a TV special.

Backed by an excellent orchestra with first-rate arrangements, Rogers very capably crooned the likes of "I Remember You" and "When I Fall in Love," smoothing the edges of his brusque country style and sweetening his tone. Rather than try for the classic silky approach of a Johnny Mathis, Rogers wisely settled on the somewhat clipped, warm, lived-in style of Willie Nelson, who's also noted for singing standards.

It was basically a lively, enjoyable show, with Rogers showcasing material from his new album, "Timepiece." He mostly sang dreamy romantic ballads and stayed away from his own hits--with the exception of a nifty, swinging version of "The Gambler." The soul-gospel vocal group Take 6, which appears on the album version of "Love Is Just Around the Corner," dazzled in a guest performance on that tune.

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