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Kenny Loggins: He’s Alright as Sensitive Singer

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Kenny Loggins the artist has two sides: the sensitive, introspective singer-songwriter and the playful, more extroverted rocker.

He has been balancing these two for 25 years, first as half of the popular ‘70s duo Loggins and Messina and then as a sometimes commercially potent solo artist. Predictably, his concert Friday night at the Freedman Forum here presented almost equal shares of heartfelt pop and acoustic material and more sprightly songs designed to lighten the mood and ignite the feet.

The problem with this predictable tack was that the Alhambra-bred 49-year-old lacks even a rudimentary feel for truly transcendent rock ‘n’ roll. It’s a shortcoming that’s even more pronounced on stage than on record. With his thin voice and willowy stage presence, Loggins live has a way of making even his most up-tempo songs seem annoyingly safe.

The problem with his party material goes beyond mere presentation. Quasi-rowdy numbers like his smash hit “Footloose” and “I’m Alright” feel as if they were manufactured rather than created from the human soul and imagination. Appropriately, these numbers gained popularity in the ‘80s as theme songs to major Hollywood movies, “Footloose” and “Caddyshack,” respectively.

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At the Freedman, Loggins had a tendency to overextend his livelier ditties into interminable jams featuring his gifted but sometimes overly bombastic backing band. They drove “I’m Alright” into the ground, and turned the Loggins and Messina favorite “Your Mama Don’t Dance” into a long, uninspiring instrumental exercise.

The vocalist’s six-piece band did bring a soulful edge to some of the material from his new “The Unimaginable Life” album. But the group’s strong R&B; chops also tended to underscore Loggins’ deficiencies as a soul singer. He appeared out of his league when he went toe-to-toe with his group during the performance of a funky new song, the Stevie Wonder-ish “The Art of Letting Go.”

Loggins was a far more engaging performer when he settled into his singer-songwriter persona. When the boyishly handsome veteran (he looks younger now that he’s ditched the beard) simply sat on a stool with his acoustic guitar, it was as if he was entertaining a few friends in his living room.

When he sang the tender title track from his children’s album, “Return to Pooh Corner,” many in the audience joined in. It was the evening’s most moving moment. He also delivered a stirring rendition of the lilting ballad “Amanda” and breezy version of his catchy 1979 pop hit, “This Is It.”

Luckily, Loggins had the good sense not to dwell on the special relationship he has said he shares with his wife, Julia, which is the theme of his “The Unimaginable Life” album and a companion book.

In concert, Loggins seems to understand where the boundaries lie between sentimentality and over-sentimentality. It’s too bad that this likable personality doesn’t have a similar understanding of his limitations as a rock ‘n’ roller.


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