Kid Rock turned 40 in January.
His latest album Born Free is a slice of heartland country-rock.
And for the first time in his career, the man otherwise known as Robert James Ritchie avoided the Parental Advisory tag warning of explicit content on a record.
Some could argue Ritchie has finally gone soft and embraced middle age.
Yes, Kid Rock rose to fame with rap-metal anthems "Bawitdaba" and "Cowboy;" relished a bad-boy image fuelled by drugs, alcohol and strippers; and earned plenty of media attention for a punch-up with ex-wife Pamela Anderson's former husband Tommy Lee and an infamous brawl at a Waffle House in Atlanta.
With Born Free, Kid Rock is digging deeper into his roots than ever.
"I get so much hate mail," Ritchie said in a phone interview from his home in Detroit a few days before the beginning of his Canadian tour.
"I'm just kidding," he added quickly with a laugh. "I've always been honest and that's where the music sits. If people want to tag along, they're all invited. That's all the power I have."
The transformation didn't happen overnight: Since the release of 2001's Cocky, Ritchie has been transitioning slowly into country-flavoured rock and, thanks to producer Rick Rubin, the mastermind behind the comebacks of Johnny Cash and Metallica, the reinvention of Kid Rock is finally complete.
"I gave him the wheel and let him drive, but I sat in the back seat, yelling and screaming at him for where to turn," he said. "I had a batch of songs that were real poignant, and he kind of took it as, 'Let's make a record with the music that you love: the heartland, rhythm 'n' blues, the soul of Motown and classic rock.'"
With Rubin at the helm and with drummer Chad Smith (Red Hot Chili Peppers), bassist/guitarist Matt Sweeney (Chavez), guitarist Dave Hidalgo (Los Lobos) and pianist/keyboardist Benmont Tench (The Heartbreakers) as his studio band, Ritchie said Born Free was pumped out in a short two-weeks' worth of live sessions, which he admitted was much quicker than any other album he recorded.
"We would do four or five takes for each song and Rick would say, 'Magic's gone, let's move on.'"
The album also benefited from a number of guest appearances, including rapper T.I. and Martina McBride ("Care"), Zac Brown ("Flyin High"), and Sheryl Crow ("Collide"), which reunited Ritchie with the singer who helped him make Cocky single "Picture" a crossover hit.
"I've never done songs with people just for the sake of 'the great combination,'" Ritchie said. "I've always done songs with friends. Sheryl is one of my favourites. It's just fun to sing with her. She's like a cool, gentle breeze and I'm this big snowstorm."
"Collide" also allowed Ritchie to have Detroit legend and close friend Bob Seger make an appearance on piano.
As some critics have pointed out, Born Free feels very much like the kind of album Bob Seger would have made in the late '70s or early '80s ("Against the Wind," "The Distance"), an ode to the people of Detroit, their hardship and resilience, calling for hope in difficult times.
The son of a steel mill-bred car dealer, Ritchie has always remained faithful to his hometown, and has seen the Motor City's slow decline first-hand.
It was a catalyst on Born Free, he admitted.
"We have a saying on a shirt that says, 'We're all Detroit,'" Ritchie said. "When I talked to Rick about some of the songs, I said, 'Is it too much Detroit?' And he went, 'No, that's your heart and people can relate to that because it's the truth.' I like to say tough times make tough people, and this city's full of them.
"I just take it as a compliment whenever Seger gets brought up, because he's probably one of my favourites, if not my all-time favourite," he added. "I think about how he's lived his life and stuck to his roots. I can only hope to be that good. I was born and raised with Seger pumping through my blood. There's no way to escape it."
Kid Rock plays Vancouver May 17, Calgary May 20, Edmonton May 21, Regina May 23, Winnipeg May 24, Toronto May 27, Montreal May 30, Ottawa May 31.
SOURCE: The Vancouver Sun