Kid Rock – Voice of a Generation?

Music Reviews 2011 – Kid Rid – Born Free

Kid Rock’s tenth album, Born Free, released November 16th, 2010, is his best yet.  And that’s saying something, given the success of 2007’s Rock N Roll Jesus–Kid Rock’s first #1 album.  Rock had set the bar pretty high before and yet he delivered again, raising his own standard. Born Free began where Rock N Roll Jesus left off, building on the themes that took him to #1. Born Free showcases Rock’s maturity and growing craftmanship. And, dare I say it? Can Kid Rock be the Voice of a Generation? Hear me out and then you can be the judge.

Whatever else you can call him, Robert James “Bob” Ritchie–Kid Rock, is undoubtedly an integrator.  He crosses genres like a pizza delivery man crosses streets. From rock and blues, to country, to gospel, to southern rock, to rap and hip hop, Kid Rock plays them all like a pro.  He has fans in each genre and collectively he takes us places that no other artist can.  And these days he’s taking on us on a soulful, country-infused, journey across America’s heartland (“into the Purple Sky”), singing songs most of us can relate to–to the exclusion of his rap and metal fans (who by-the-way aren’t so happy about it).

2007’s Rock N Roll Jesus demonstrated that Rock could make music for the mainstream masses.   The summertime classic, All Summer Long sampled Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama to maximum effect. If that doesn’t demonstrate genius, then what does? We loved Skynyrd doing it in 1974 and we love it even more integrated smartly into a new, sing-along, feel-good song.  Kid Rock took a classic and worked it into his own modern classic, as evidenced by it charting to #1 in eight countries. After that, Rock could never be “under the radar” again.

However rich his recent successes have been, Kid Rock worked in relative obscurity for years.  Rock got his start DJ’ing and rap’n in the Detroit area.  He was originally signed at age 17.   After years working the Detroit area rap scene, he later worked in Nashville and L.A., soaking in local flavors, adding to his repertoire.  And he now seems quite comfortable mixing it all up.  He mixes styles, raps and croons, and does duets with stars.  Kid Rock has woven a believable tapestry in an age of confusion.  He seemlessly works it all in…and makes it all work.  And no one is more surprised than I am.  I don’t like half the genres that Kid Rock samples from…but I like Rock’s newer music.

Born Free was produced by Rick Rubin–well-known for contributing to great records, from Johnny Cash, to Adele, to Metallica, to the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and many, many more. Rubin’s production and collaboration virtually ensures that you will get the best and the most from the Band or Artist.  This record was no exception.

Born Free is full of interesting collaborations.  Kid Rock has worked with a number of credible (in their own right) artists over the years.  On this record, he took it to another level.   Guest artists included Martina McBride, Rapper T.I. (who were, believe it or not, both in the same song), Trace Adkins, Zac Brown, Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers and Chickenfoot drummer), David Hidalgo (Los Lobos guitarist), Benmont Tench (Heartbreakers’ keyboardist), Bob Seger, and long-time duet partner Sheryl Crow.   Rock’s duets with Sheryl Crow are, by now, as close to sure money as an artist can get. This record’s Collide is no exception.  Crow and Rock compliment each other perfectly over Seger’s piano, Tench’s B-3, and Hidalgo’s very southern guitar–sure money indeed.

Born Free is the first of Kid Rock’s albums to come without a parental advisory. Coincidentally, Rock turned 40 not too long ago.  Is he growing up?  Maybe, who knows?…but, he’s certainly wiser.  Only a wise man would let Benmont Tench have his way with a whole record.  Tom Petty knows this.  Let the man work already.  Tench is generously applied throughout Born Free.  His keyboards lending dignity to and “church’ing up” several songs. Most notably, Care, When It Rains, and Rock On definitely showcase the Benmont Tench church-effect.  A Hammond B-3 in the margins has never sounded better. It’s just another sensible layer added on–that somehow makes the sum seem greater than the individual parts.  And that, my friends, is musical synergy–graduate level application of music theory.  Kid Rock has taken his craft to that level.  And Rick Rubin gets another notch on his belt for home run albums produced.

Born Free has no shortage of great songs–potential favorites.  The title track got widespread attention at the 2011 Super Bowl.  And while this is a rock solid effort at a flag-waving classic (just like Mellencamp’s Our Country a few years ago), and easily the best known song on the album, it isn’t even close to my favorite.  That honor has migrated from Purple Sky to Rock On, to First Time in a Long Time, to When it Rains, over the months since the albums release.

And while picking a favorite song has been an evolving process over time, the album is, most assuredly, a start to finish listen and a great album to accompany a small gathering. In this capacity, at least twice I’ve heard someone ask, “who is this?” and “is this the Eagles?”  The first time I heard it, I thought, “hmmm?”  The second time I heard it, I thought, “this is pretty high praise.”  Nobody sounds like the Eagles anymore–except maybe the reunited Eagles.  But the point is the same, Kid Rock is playing new music that is reminiscent of the Eagles, and his fellow Michigander and idol Bob Seger.  And that is cross-generational music.  Maybe when his rap and metal fans grow a little older they’ll embrace the beauty of this new direction.

The Eagles were absolutely the ‘voice of a generation’ back in the mid-seventies.  The Eagles – Their Greatest Hits (1971-1975) is among the top 10 selling records ever (selling over 42 million copies) and they certainly had America’s complete, rapt attention with Hotel California back in 1977.  Kid Rock has a a long way to go to get into that territory. But that said, Kid Rock is enjoying a similar success to the Eagles.  Like they were in the late 70s, he is now good enough, big enough, and ‘on top of his game’ enough to do whatever he wants. The fact that he wants to work at making great music, with friends from all over, from all styles of music, is is a beautiful thing.  And that just might be the signature of the younger generation.  While he may not be the voice of your generation, he is blending and crossing boundaries much more common to the younger generation of Americans now.

Kid Rock may not deserve any sweeping, lofty labels or grandiose legacy just yet.  But he does deserve credit for the sustained growth of his craft.  He is hitting on all cylinders, writing, producing and singing.  He’s working with proven winners.  And it’s all fun and games when everything works.  And each record seems to work better than the last.  He’s obviously having fun…and he’s working on a new record, Chillin’ The Most, due out in 2012. I can’t wait to see where it will take us.

Until then, I’ll keep enjoying Born Free.  It’s fresh, it’s light, it’s straightforward.  I suggest you check it out.  Or if it suits you better, then don’t.

Either way, Support the Musicians You Like.  Enjoy~!

A special thanks to Amanda “Yaya” Gage for introducing me to Rock N’ Roll Jesus. Congrats to you and Derrick! — And hello to Kinsley Jo – welcome to the clan.

And a hearty thanks to Karen Thielke for being the first to share an enthusiasm for Born Free with me.  You were right….and I too am sold.   JDPF

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