No popular act today surveys the country's musical landscape quite like Kid Rock. He came to us as a rap ringmaster, evolved into Bob Seger's soul-shuffle, and finally channeled the spirits of Bocephus, Cash and Waylon.
On "Born Free," Rock finally arrives at the Nashville-by-way-of-Detroit destination he's been aiming at for the last 15 years. It's a satisfying set, with feel-good songs and workingman laments that still sound breezy. One definite highlight is the gospel-tinged Care, featuring the unlikely guest star pairing of Martina McBride and rapper T.I. Practically all of the raw elements of his last effort, "Rock n Roll Jesus," have been excised - there's only a single PG-rated word on the whole album, and at least a half-dozen shout-outs to God. One could call this maturity (he does turn 40 soon). But the praising of sunshine and moonshine are intact. Flying High, with Zac Brown, and Rock Bottom Blues neatly fit into the worldview of the other songs (Times Like These and When It Rains). Life's rough, so there's no shame in drinking a cold one.
Rock's gravelly voice sounds best when not sidestepping into falsetto-echo experimentation, such as the unnecessary For the First Time. And if over-the-top anthems are not your bag, you might mistake the title track for a car or beer commercial. But Rock has an unfailing instinct to show that working and playing hard matter, even with headaches and heartaches. He's a genuine article of Americana. The best track of the bunch is the rousing sing-along of Purple Sky. If you don't want to turn that one up and hit the open road, check your passport - could be you're due back home.