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Album review: Kid Rock's 'Born Free'

November 16, 2010 |  7:02 am

Kid_rock_born_free_cd_240_ Few musicians have the stylistic reach Detroit rap-rocker Kid Rock displays in bringing together musical guests as disparate as country music sweetheart Martina McBride and rapper T.I. — and on the same track, no less. But that’s one of the nifty surprises Kid Rock pulls off on his eighth album, making strange musical bedfellows sound like kindred spirits to boot.

That also may have something to do with the presence of producer Rick Rubin, who once again demonstrates his uncanny gift for chipping away the bluster and artifice from the acts he works with, helping them sculpt their songs and performances down to what really matters.

There’s nary a trace of the rap-metal hybrid that first ushered in what might easily have been his 15 minutes of fame, and little of the country dabbling that’s endeared him in recent years to the Nashville crowd. Instead, Kid Rock appears intent on asserting his place as the classic-rock scion of Detroit rasper Bob Seger, who plays piano on “Collide,” a folk-rock ballad that exhibits honest-to-goodness vulnerability.

“Wish I didn’t know now the things I didn’t know then,” he sings wistfully in “When It Rains,” the melancholy flip side of his nostalgia-minded 2008 hit, “All Summer Long.” “Care,” the track with McBride and T.I., is winningly modest in its viewpoint that perhaps it’s not possible to change the world, but it’s always possible to care.

He hasn’t completely abandoned his party-hardy ethic, delivering an instant dive-bar jukebox classic, “God Bless Saturday,” with its Stones-Aerosmith echoes, and a lively ZZ Top-worthy shuffle in “Rock Bottom Blues.”

With a refreshing emphasis on music over outrageous persona, Kid Rock has earned himself another 15 minutes with this one. Oh, what the heck? Let’s make it 30.

—Randy Lewis

Kid Rock
“Born Free”
Atlantic
Three stars (Out of four)

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