Released: December 1978
When I think of Kenny Rogers, I think of a storyteller. He wasn’t known for being a songwriter, and a 2020 Billboard article quotes him as saying, “Most (of the story songs that writers sent me) were stupid and not well-written, but boy, when you found a good one, it made it all worthwhile.”
There are some good ones here. The title song is superb and “The King of Oak Street” is a lovely reflection on the pedestals we create and from which we inevitability fall. There are a few outlaw songs (for those of us who like our outlaws to own chicken joints; I’m looking at you, Gus Fring) and a few stories that let you color in the details as you see fit.
There are also a few stupid songs on the album. “Making Music for Money” is laughably bad and “The Hoodooin’ of Miss Fannie Deberry” sounds like Kenny interpreting Hot Buttered Soul.
My biggest surprise is discovering that “She Believes in Me” is essentially the same song as “Beth.” It’s a good story song and Kenny’s protagonist shows more love and empathy than Peter Criss, but it’s ultimately a celebration of temptation and thin apologies. Perhaps living in LA during the hair metal years made it impossible for me to love a song about musicians neglecting their partners.
Temptation is a theme on The Gambler: the temptation of cheating on your wife, the temptation of the old guitar, the temptation of holding onto your cards. It’s a theme that makes the album worth hearing once or twice, but know when to walk away.