Album Spotlight: Kid Rock’s ‘Sweet Southern Sugar’
Kid Rock isn’t committed to one genre, and his new album, Sweet Southern Sugar (Nov. 3) is another testament to his outside-the-box Detroit bravado.
With Kid Rock (birth name Robert Ritchie), it’s less about fitting into a box; it’s more about setting the tone. Fans have responded, following Rock since his major label debut with the rap-rock Devil Without a Cause in 1998. However, it wasn’t long after that Kid Rock made an unexpected dive into country music when he saddled up with 2001's Cocky, an album best known for yielding his smash “Picture,” a now-classic duet with Sheryl Crow. Fast forward six studio albums later to 2017 and fans have Sweet Southern Sugar, which opens another chapter in the life of a man who defines rock star.
To his credit, Kid Rock crossed into country music before 'going country' was the cool trend, but since the release of Cocky, his work has been a mash of hip-hop, rock 'n' roll, blues and country, and it’s all represented on his new project.
“I think people know when I say something, it’s real,” Kid Rock tells Taste of Country of why he's had success skating across formats. “I’ve heard that enough for the last 20 years. People believe me when I say something, whether its f—cked up or poignant or it’s funny or whatever. I’m not smart enough to calculate s—t.”
Though Rock’s delivery sounds brash, he speaks in a calm tone — the same hard edge, soft edge found on Sweet Southern Sugar. The album kicks off with “Greatest Show on Earth,” an in-your-face rocker meant to electrify a live audience and rolls into “Po Dunk,” an edgy country hip-hop blend reminiscent of ’98’s “Cowboy.” From there, he dials back the aggression, turning up the musicality on “I Wonder,” which was written with an old Memphis blues groove doctored with drum samples and electronic keyboards in the bass line to up the pop sensibility.
The lyrics in “Raining Whiskey” are also a (depressing) highlight: “It’s been raining whiskey / Pouring beer / There’s a thundering jukebox in my ear / I feel a great depression coming on / It’s been raining whiskey since you’ve been gone.”
The song was actually written by soul singer Frankie Miller, who has become a friend of Rock’s over the years. In another effort to capture some soul, Rock also cut a new version of the Four Top’s “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch,” except he took the production to a much darker place, admitting he recut the lyrics as if the song were written about “dope.”
“American Rock and Roll” moves the album to a not-too-hard, not-too-soft country-rock feel with a lyric that describes much of Kid Rock’s musical style: “A little bit of Motown smooth / A little bit of Memphis blues / A sweet emotion raining all over me / Give me that heart and that soul / American rock and roll.”
Even with the soft spots, there are still enough 'F-bombs' on Sweet Southern Sugar to earn a parental advisory sticker, but overall, the album is flooded with authenticity and sometimes, perhaps even an odd version of grace. In a minor ode to Devil Without a Cause, Rock goes off on a certain rapper with one line in “Grandpa’s Jam,” the most hip-hop oriented and well-placed final track on the album.
With its multiple styles, Sweet Southern Sugar may be hard to define, but Kid Rock is definitely making the music he wants to make.
Did You Know?: Sweet Southern Sugar is the first album Kid Rock has cut in Nashville and his first release on his new label deal with BMG/Broken Bow Records.
Key Tracks: “Po Dunk,” “American Rock and Roll,” “Raining Whiskey” and “Tennessee Mountain Top”