Kid Rock: Born Free

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Posted November 24, 2010 by J Matthew Cobb in Reviews 1.0

Trading in the bling-bling and pimped-out fur coat for cowboy boots and a honky-tonk guitar, Born Free feels like a born-again conversion with Nashville pop

Break open the bottle of classic rock: former bad boy Kid Rock journeys through a somersault of country-tinged ‘70’s rock like John Fogerty, Lynard Skynard and Leon Russell and with a country pop fetish for Zac Brown Band and Kenny Chesney. You may be surprised to see that there’s no Parental Advisory sticker on Born Free; Rock’s eight studio project. It’s the first one in his entire career.

Famed high-in-demand producer Rick Rubin has no problem pairing himself with long-distance projects. His jump into country with the Dixie Chicks and then the Johnny Cash posthumous recordings started that trend. Popera singer Josh Groban is just one of his unusual assignments for the year. He runs to Rock’s rescue on Born Free; along with a stellar supporting cast which includes Sheryl Crow, Mary J. Blige, Zac Brown and Bob Seger on piano to help brighten up the adventure.

The album opens with Bruce Springsteen horsepower, tracing the momentum of “Born to Run” and slides into party rock on “Slow My Role.” In a matter of minutes, the album goes from painting Rock’s “love life” memoirs to earnest confessionals, dipped in moral-conscious objectification. “Care,” a social gospel song, may feel like a cornball attempt to bring the musical words together using “We Are the World” remnants. Martina McBride (and Mary J Blige, using Aretha soul, on the bonus cut version) joins Rock on a duet that beams poignantly as one of the album’s highlights. To add to the oddness, T.I. appears on the country-pop cut and offers a special emcee blessing. It’s a feel-good song that showcases some of the album’s best verses and succeeds in its purpose to volunteer awareness. The good news continues to spread on “Times Like These,” a nod to his hometown’s current struggles. It boasts an inspirational credo declaring that tough times makes us tough (“And even though its bittersweet and brings us to our knees/It makes us who we are in times like these”).

Rock’s vocals sound so assured, even if he’s cleaning up his act for more pop worthiness. While the album has no problem in its design, thanks to melodies and Rubin’s seasoned production. The lyrics aren’t silly, but they certainly lack the poetic posterity and artistic storytelling of eternal rock and country epics. “God Bless Saturday” packs a punch instantly, with Rock’s raspy emotional pipes, an excusable curse word to liven up the party and the opening guitar lines marching like a slowed-down version of Deep Dish’s “Flashdance,” but the newly-enshrined “TGIS” anthem feels like it deserves some better lines.

The bitter reaction to Rock’s selling out and dried-up raunch is to be expected. No more American Bad Ass or that big pimpin’ brew of Southern gangsta rock. Not even a sacrilegious Rock n Roll Jesus. It’s like the Kid is turning the other cheek on his bully-like behavior and wants to walk the straight and narrow, or simply trying to re-write his wrongs. He talks about his childhood, being innocent, poor and ambitious on “When It Rains”: “Back then when we was 17, time was on our side/ Holes in our jeans, pocket full of dreams, the future was Friday night/And we would hangout down by the riverbend/Singing our favorite songs.” And on “Flyin’ High,” he redesigns his hobbies around California cool and Southern small town simplicities (“You know I spent a lil’ time out in Malibu/I spent quite a bit down in Nashville too/’Cause I like the beach and loves to honky tonk). Kind of hard to believe for those that remember his Detroit big-pimpin’ of his early days. For a man now approaching 40, Bob Ritchie may need to go ahead and retire the “kid” in the rock as he rests comfortably in the laurels of country-inspired soft rock. He’s not the rebel he’s used to being portrayed as, but his transition into pop rocker hasn’t looked as brighter.

J MATTHEW COBB

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About the Author

J Matthew Cobb

Managing editor of HiFi Magazine


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