If Kid Rock continued the hard rock path of his earlier albums, he could have collected a paycheck and bought another mansion, but instead, encouraged by Rick Rubin, he continued to bear his soul with Born Free
an album dominated by Bob Seger
-style Heartland rock and country blues. It's another album in a long series where he placed artistic integrity and doing what he wanted over commercial viability.
While country may be perhaps the most commercially popular genre ever, simply making a country album isn't a guarantee to overnight success: There's so many country albums that even seriously damn good country singer-songwriters like Rissi Palmer
could have a damn good album out and still have it ignored by the public, and Kid Rock was putting his commercially viable ass on the line making this album when fans were wanting him to rock harder and this album continues to throwback to rock and roll, heavily informed by Seger and country. There's no metal or hard rock influenced tracks, and the only rap is delivered by T.I.
The more commercially viable thing for Kid Rock to do would have been to make Devil Without a Cause III
, but this is an older man whose son was going off to college. He's no longer angry at the world. He always has made music for himself, and his love of country has long been apparent, from his early hip-hop days when he sampled country songs. Reuniting with Sheryl Crow
was a commercially shrewd move considering "Picture" was one of his best songs and biggest hits, but putting out an album with this much country" That was a gamble. One that luckily paid off, but still...
He continues the introspective songwriting perspective, turning up one of his best songs to date in "Care", where he reflects "I can't stop the wars, shelter homeless, feed the poor...the least that I could do is care." He is just a man, he doesn't lack compassion, it's just that there's too much in the world for him to affect all of society's ills. Stuck between the screaming on the left-wing and yelling on the right-wing, Kid Rock is sitting in the middle trying to live his life. It's a very rich, warm piece of songwriting delving into his soul and country influences. And doing a track with Bob Seger on piano was smart after earlier guest-spotting on a John Fogerty
Then there's the title track, a tribute to the American ideal, a celebration of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, "Born Free" is a tribute to the America as it was (if only in our hearts), can and should be and the spirit of any American regardless of political affiliation who values these ideals. This is why this energetic, Seger-influenced rock track soared the charts in 2012, it united Americans at a time when politicians (not the least being President Obama) divided Americans: A rock singer reached out to more Americans than any politician. That's an impressive feat.
This is an album whose cover reflects the listening mood: the songs are perfect for chilling in your car watching the sun set against amber waves of grain, riding across the country, Easy Rider
-style on your motorcycle, chilling by the lake having a beer and fishing. It's good time music, with the other major highlights on the album being the soul track "Roll On" and the rock track "God Bless Saturday", a celebration of, again, the feeling of freedom, specifically the freedom when the work day ends and you can relax and have a good time or party until you drop.
If some of the tracks aren't quite as memorable as they could have been, the album is still pretty solid in its earnestness and songwriting talent. The biggest flaw, though, is that it lacks the varied sound, moods and tempos of his other albums, essentially being geared for specific moods and feelings as noted above, but it is still a solid album of Detroit rock and country, more CMT than MTV, but still a solid example of vocal talent (Kid Rock is a hell of a singer) and songwriting ability.