Kenny Rogers Calls Alison Krauss, Jennifer Nettles & Home Free 'Great Partners' on Christmas Album

Kenny Rogers
Piper Ferguson

Kenny Rogers

Kenny Rogers and Christmas music just seem to go together. Dating back to 1981's Christmas, the singer has enjoyed almost a separate career with his holiday offerings. Once Upon a Christmas (with Dolly Parton) from 1984 remains a Yuletide standard, while later albums Christmas in America (1989), The Gift (1996) and Christmas From the Heart (1998) continue to sell well during the season.

After signing a new record deal in 2013 with Warner Bros., the label soon asked him to consider revisiting the Christmas well, which resulted in the release of Once Again It's Christmas, his sixth holiday album.

"The label came to me and said, 'We're due another Christmas record,' and I thought after 17 years, I agreed," he tells Billboard. "I thought I could do something special and different, so I started putting this album together."

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What sets this album apart from the others? The Country Music Hall of Fame member says the wide-ranging group of collaborators really helped to make this album different.

"I think that I have some great partners on this album," he says, with a list of guest stars that includes Jennifer Nettles, Home Free and Alison Krauss. "I've always had this theory that when it comes to duets, you don't commit to partners; you commit to songs. You then find a partner who will sing that song best. Take for instance Jennifer Nettles on 'Baby, It's Cold Outside.' I can't think of anyone else who has the personality that she has that can bring that song off. It's that way with Alison Krauss on 'Some Children See Him.' ... She was the perfect partner for that."

Working with Nettles was something Rogers had been wanting to do for a couple of years, and he insists it was worth the wait. "We did 'Islands in the Stream' on the CMA Awards back in 2013, and I don't think in the last 10 years I've found anyone that I had such a connection with. We looked at each other, and she enjoyed being there as much as I did. We both said that we were going to do a song together. My only concern about that song was that I didn't want to sound like a lecherous old man, because you have to be careful about things like that. But when she started singing it, she was perfect for it."

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"Some Children See Him," the Krauss cut, has an interesting story stemming from the song's writer, Alfred Burt. "This guy was very wealthy, and every year, he wrote one Christmas song. He sent it out to his friends as a Christmas gift. This one, from 1951, was one of 15 that he had written. It falls within that category of 'Mary, Did You Know,' in that it's a totally different look at Christmas. It says in so many words that black children don't have to see Christ as white; you can look at him as black. ... It really struck me as being a deep thought process into the universality of Christmas. When Alison starts singing, I might as well not even be on the album. She is so perfect on that and comes in like an angel. She just takes over the song."

Another highlight from the set is "Children, Go Where I Send Thee," which pairs Rogers with rising a cappella group Home Free, whom the singer says he wasn't familiar with at first.

"I had never heard of Home Free. My boys have choir lessons at school, and their teacher said, 'You've got to hear Home Free.' I went home and Googled them, and they were amazing. They were so excited about doing the album, and they really added some life to the record.

Rogers will be performing many of the songs from the set on his annual Christmas tour -- which starts Nov. 11 in Niagara Falls, Ontario. It will be the 35th and final holiday tour for the performer, who announced in September that he would be hanging up his traveling shoes in 2016.

"We do about 30 days in a row. I really think that people are anxious to feel something at that time of year. Things have gotten so commercial that they want to feel something real about Christmas."

Kenny Rogers' Once Again It's Christmas tour dates:
11/11-14 - Niagara Falls, Ontario - Niagara Fallsview Casino Avalon
11/17 - Moncton, New Brunswick - Casino New Brunswick
11/18 - Truro, Nova Scotia - Rath Eastlink Centre
11/20 - Corner Brook, Newfoundland and Labrador - Pepsi Centre
11/21 - Clarenville, Newfoundland and Labrador - Clarenville Events Centre
11/22 - St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador - Mile One Centre
11/27 - Northfield, OH - Hard Rock Rocksino Northfield
11/28 - Merrillville, Ind. - Star Plaza Theatre
11/30 - Terre Haute, Ind. - Hulman Center - Indiana State
12/2 - Norfolk, Neb. - Divots Conference Center
12/4 - Bowler, Wis. - North Star Mohican Casino Showroom
12/5 - Battle Creek, Mich. - Firekeepers Casino - Event Center
12/6 - Windsor, Ontario - The Colosseum at Caesars Windsor
12/8 - Ashland, Ky. - Paramount Arts Center
12/10 - New Brunswick, N.J. - State Theatre
12/11 - White Plains, N.Y. - Westchester County Center
12/12 - Uncasville, Conn. - Mohegan Sun Arena
12/13 - Bangor, Maine - Cross Insurance Center
12/15 - Hagerstown, Md. - Maryland Theater
12/16 - Roanoke, Va. - Berglund Performing Arts Theatre
12/17 - Verona, N.Y. - Turning Stone Resort & Casino - Event Center
12/18 - King of Prussia, Pa. - Valley Forge Casino Resort
12/19 - Englewood, N.J. - Bergen Performing Arts Center
12/20 - Concord, N.H. - The Capitol Center For The Arts
12/22 - Erie, Pa. - Warner Theater
12/23 - Westbury, N.Y. - NYCB Theatre at Westbury