Sound — 7
Age often opens up a certain side of musicians. Not one that's particularly surprising, but more human, as an artist tends to put a more natural side of them on display. Sometimes it's due to a change in lifestyle and that could be said for Robert James Ritchie a.k.a. Kid Rock. Having set standards for mainstream hits in the late 90s' with hazardous yet catchy hooks, the soon to be 40-year-old is a now an American roots musician focused on penning a reflection of the times.
With the bumper stickers changed, Kid Rock is, for once, soulful. Opening tracks "Born Free" and "Slow My Roll" present a changed man who isn't afraid of putting a rasp on display while piano chords and a classic guitar sound dance in the background. The eighth trip into the studio may not reflect Rock's past affair with metal and rap rock but it still entwines his former self. "Care" twirls like an adult contemporary single with Martina McBride lending vocals and T.I. sharing a safe-for-work verse of his own while "God Bless Saturday" drapes an American flag across its shoulders as a vintage guitar solo unloads at the halfway point of the track. Due to the roots of the artist, Born Free does claim a country-rock image with a sense of vulnerability, not twang or amateur lyrics about a whiskey girl who bought her first barbecue grill.
Lyrics — 8
It's hard to imagine Kid Rock recording an album with an acoustic feel to it. Instead of trying to touch the peak of his mainstream abilities, the musician presents a care-free attitude, easing his way into choruses without shouting about how he's a cowboy and rides all night because he sleeps all day. The singer did do a take in a similar department with Sheryl Crow in 2002 with the single "Picture", but his vocal talent on Born Free is genuinely remarkable. "Collide" and "Flyin' High" pitch him against more respected voices (Crow and Zac Brown), forcing him to blend with another and not bask in the spotlight by himself. Having taken a softer tone, Rock's lyrics about modern-day blues ("Times Like These", "Rock Bottom Blues") and the state of Detroit provide a message that's actually worth listening to even if it's stereotypical to the bone.
Overall Impression — 7
Witnessing the evolution of Kid Rock's career is almost shocking. Seeing the musician become involved in the honesty of roots rock is identical to watching pop princess Mandy Moore rock the mic as an MC (if that were to happen). His past may point out the transformation isn't a surprise, but the fact his talents have matured and almost erase the youthful angst he once had is a bit staggering. Kid Rock has never been one to garner the respect he deserves but with Born Free, it may be time. Amidst the fireworks show of sincerity and incline in ability, it's difficult not to applaud the road he's taken and what new territories he may create in the next decade of his heavily-criticized career.