Music News: Dolly Parton pays tribute to 'true friend' Kenny Rogers


Jade and Jay discuss the late Kenny Rogers, live streams and the importance of touring to album cycles, and a Neil DIamond parody to boot. (MPR Video)

Kenny Rogers, one of the biggest stars in the history of country music, has died after long illness at age 81. The voice behind 21 country chart-toppers, two of which also topped the pop chart, Rogers followed his instincts for compelling material and ended up becoming an early crossover sensation. "Long before the ascendancy of Garth Brooks and Shania Twain in the 1990s, he was among the first country artists to sell out arenas," notes the New York Times.

In an interview with NPR's Steve Inskeep in 2012, Kenny Rogers said the types of songs he sings fall into two categories. "One is ballads that say what every man would like to say, and every woman would like to hear; and the other thing are story-songs that have social significance. 'Reuben James' was about a black man who raised a white child, 'Coward of the County' was about a rape, 'Ruby Don't Take Your Love to Town' was about a guy who came home from war, and that's really what I love to do...songs that you love 'em before you realize what they're about, but you get the message vicariously once you learn to like the song."

In a touching video, Dolly Parton paid tribute to Rogers, a frequent collaborator on songs including "Islands in the Stream," a 1983 duet that hit number one on both the pop and country charts.

Livestream concerts continue to proliferate

As the world settles into what seems increasingly likely to be an extended period of social distancing, artists continue to hop online to share performances and connect with fans. The Current's Jill Riley talked with Low Cut Connie's Adam Weiner about his recent livestreams — and also about the power of radio to connect us in this turbulent time.

"This is a trying time," he said, "but just like through the history of this country, there've been very difficult times, we rose to the challenge and we came out stronger. You know, the service that you guys at The Current provide on the radio is so important right now. Think about when we were in the Great Depression, and all of a sudden people were getting their news from the radio. That's really when radio exploded in this country, and people were listening to music and they were listening to President Roosevelt speak, and it was a way that people — as despondent as they were — they saw there was a future for us. I am excited to see the energy that I'm seeing from all my neighbors and all of my pals. We're all putting our heads together and we're going to try and make this a better world. Art is a part of that world. Art does not stop."

Public health crisis causes shakeups in music releases

Just about everything in the music world is in flux right now — including release schedules. In some cases, artists are taking this opportunity to release music. Father John Misty, for example, has released a live performance — with orchestra, no less — recorded last year in Germany. The release supports an important cause, too: the MusiCares COVID-19 Relief Fund. (Consequence of Sound)

In other cases, scheduled releases are being pushed back. HAIM, for example, have decided to postpone the release of their new album. In a note posted to social media, the band write that "we had so many amazing things planned" in terms of live shows, but "given the current state of things" they're going to hold off until "later this summer."

With live performances postponed, you'd think that music streaming would be up — but it turns out that people who are social-distancing may be turning to Netflix instead of Spotify. In the past week, both album sales and online streams have fallen significantly, notes Rolling Stone. Three specific genres did, however, see streaming boosts: folk, classical, and children's music.

Neil Diamond reaches out...with his heart

One artist helping to raise awareness about the importance of preventing infection is the legendary Neil Diamond, who rewrote his 1969 hit "Sweet Caroline" to emphasize the importance of staying safe and keeping your social distance while your heartlight stays lit.

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