Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers' new Water and Bridges proves that a seminal American music icon can still surprise people -- and challenge himself.

A story-song's best friend, Rogers built his monumental career on his ability to convey the emotional truth of a lyric. That trait resonates throughout Water and Bridges-an exceptionally substantial collection of 11 new songs that concentrates on contemporary material of exceptional depth.

Even though he's earned 20 platinum album certifications, scored 22 No. 1 hits and sold 105 million albums worldwide, Rogers will be the first to tell you that he's not the world's strongest or most gifted singer. However, he is among the most effective.

When Kenny Rogers sings a song, a listener always gets exactly what it's about, always feels every nuance and subtle emotional point. When he performs, whether on record or on stage, it's never about how special his voice is; it's always about how special the song is.

Reaching people has always been Rogers' specialty. In a pop era when superstars rarely stretch into the next decade, the Texas native is the only artist to chart a record in each of the last six decades, from the 1950s to the 2000s, including such American standards as "The Gambler," "Lucille," "Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town," "Coward of the County," "She Believes in Me" and "Lady." Moreover, "Islands in the Stream," his classic pairing with Dolly Parton, recently was named the No. 1 country duet of all time by CMT.

His accolades only tell part of the story, but it's a stunningly impressive list: Three Grammy Awards, five Country Music Association Awards, eight Academy of Country Music Awards, 11 People's Choice Awards and 18 American Music Awards.

Rogers even proved he could combat modern music's focus on youth by leaping back to the top when, after starting his own independent label Dreamcatcher Records, he achieved hits with "The Greatest" and "Buy Me a Rose" -- which made him the oldest artist in all genres of music to reach No. 1 in the history of Billboard charts.

Rogers has always had other pursuits, of course. He's a successful actor whose Gambler franchise was so popular that it spawned five movies and a five-episode mini-series, the longest-running mini-series in American TV history. He's written four books of fiction and non-fiction, published three books of photography, and he's chairman of the multi-leveled company Dreamcatcher Entertainment. He won the prestigious Horatio Alger Award, given to those who have distinguished themselves while rising from humble beginnings.

But Rogers has remained relevant because he doesn't rest on his accomplishments. The strengths of Water and Bridges have little to do with past triumphs, and everything to do with proving he's as capable as ever of creating heart-stirring music that speaks directly to audiences today.


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