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Kenny Rogers

42 Ultimate Hits – 2004 (Capitol)

Reviewed by David McPherson

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CDs by Kenny Rogers

"42 Ultimate Hits" collects the legacy of love songs, memorable character-driven stories and many duets, which Nashville's elder statesman - the 65-year-old Kenny Rogers - has recorded during the past 40 years.

This retrospective chronicles Rogers' musical evolution from rock singer and folk artist to middle-of-the road country troubadour. The first disc opens with the cowboy's oft-forgotten pre-country period when he fronted the 1960s band, The First Edition. The psychedelic "Just Dropped In (To See What Condition My Condition Was In)" captures this first foray into the music business.

Duets with Dottie West, Kim Carnes, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and Alison Krauss showcase the long list of leading ladies of both country and contemporary pop music with whom Rogers has shared his voice. Rogers' early solo career as a country singer is later catalogued with hits such as the Grammy-winning "Lucille," the trademark "The Gambler" and "Coward of the County" - showing Rogers' penchant for heartfelt storytelling. Love songs are also ever-present, including the emotive, wedding-song favorite "Lady" and the heart wrenching "She Believes in Me."

Two strong new songs bookend this comprehensive collection: "My World is Over" and "We Are the Same." The former is a duet with Whitney Duncan, 19, who wrote the song, adding yet another timeless love song to Rogers' repertoire. The latter is a celebration of the bond that connects all humans with the universal message that "in our quest for love we are the same." Throughout this creative collaboration, Rogers is accompanied by voices in French, Spanish, Russian, Greek, Farsi, German, Albanian, Vietnamese and Delaware-Mohican. Both new songs show that after decades in the music business, Rogers' romantic country voice is unwavering in its rich timbre and poignant power.