Kid Rock has made no secret of his desire to follow in Bob Seger’s footsteps, but it still comes as a mild shock to have Bob Ritchie deliver an album that feels like it could have slipped in unnoticed between Against the Wind and The Distance in Seger’s discography. That’s precisely what the Rick Rubin-produced Born Free is, a striking re-creation of the waning days of the Silver Bullet Band, the time when the energy started to dissipate and a fascination with country ballads seeped into the heartland rock. It’s a comfortable setting for Kid Rock, who has slowly abandoned rap for country as he crept closer to middle age, but Born Free doesn’t feel lazy: it’s tightly written and crisply articulated thanks in large part to Rubin’s recruitment of an all-star supporting band anchored by Red Hot Chili Pepper Chad Smith, Chavez vet Matt Sweeney, Los Lobos guitarist David Hidalgo, and Heartbreaker Benmont Tench. These pros give Born Free the suppleness of well-worn leather and Kid Rock rides their grooves with ease, digging into the grinding “God Bless Saturday,” laying back on “Slow My Roll,” slyly trading verses with old sparring partner Sheryl Crow on “Collide” (which also happens to feature Seger himself on piano), and shuffling along with the three-chord boogie of “Rock Bottom Blues.” Kid Rock demonstrates enough versatility to excuse “Care,” the most apathetic protest song this side of John Mayer’s “Waiting for the World to Change,” where Kid correctly deduces that the least he can do is care, but even that slight stumble works as sheer sound, drifting along upon the Midwestern rock & roll that Kid Rock has sworn to keep alive. Born Free goes a long, long way toward keeping that heartland flame burning bright: it’s familiar yet fresh, and song for song it’s the best album Kid Rock has cut since Devil Without a Cause.
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AllMusic Review by Stephen Thomas Erlewine