For more than 20 years, Kid Rock, 46, has built a career creating music that transcends genre. Three songs into a private preview for his new album Sweet Southern Sugar (out Nov. 3), he jokingly described his sound as “creatively confused.”
“It’s just what I do,” the Grammy-nominated hitmaker said.
The listening event was held at the log cabin saloon that neighbors his Whites Creek property where his primary residence is a camouflaged doublewide with a stunning view of downtown Nashville. In case his guests forgot they were at the home of an American bad ass, little American flags were strategically worked into the décor.
In one corner of the saloon, an antique stuffed Kodiak bear stood holding two flags in its massive claws. On the walls were headshots of Gene Autry and a Time magazine cover of the late Johnny Cash addressed to Bobby Ritchie (short for Rock’s birth name, Robert James Ritchie). Stuck to a keyboard onstage in another corner was a sticker that read, “Kid Rock for U.S. Senate.”
Sweet Southern Sugar is Rock’s first album made in Nashville and it’s his first release under his new label deal with BMG/Broken Bow Records, which is home to Trace Adkins, Jason Aldean, Lindsay Ell, Randy Houser, Dustin Lynch, Joe Nichols and others. Like most of Rock’s catalogue, the songs on Sweet Southern Sugar touch on a little bit of everything. It opens with an anthemic rocker “Greatest Show on Earth.” Then it eases into “Po-Dunk,” a bluesy homage to hillbilly living. “I Wonder” started as a Memphis blues, but turned into an infectious number that could easily fit on any ZZ Top album. Following in that same sonic vein is, “American Rock ’n’ Roll,” co-written by Joey Hyde, Aaron Eshius and Neil Medley.
Featuring a chorus originally written by New Zealand’s Breaks Co-Op, “Back to the Otherside” is a soul-baring rap about suicide. “Raining Whiskey” is a stunning original by the blue-eyed soul singer Frankie Miller. Everyone will recognize Rock’s version of the Motown classic “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” by the Four Tops. The closer is “Grandpa’s Jam,” an anthemic rap-rock jam that rocks harder than your memaw’s chair.
The groove in the lead single “Tennessee Mountain Top” recalls the swampy Southern soul that made Muscle Shoals famous. And its chorus doesn’t shy away from controversial lyrics like, “Preacher man praying for peace but still packin’ a gun.”
That line happens to be one of Rock’s favorites on the collection.
“It’s poignant of what’s going on right now, being a gun owner and supporting the Second Amendment,” Rock told CMT.com. “We obviously have a mental health problem in America. That’s a whole other issue. But just saying, I agree with the preacher. I’m praying for peace, too, just like he is.
“But for him, I’d have a gun on the side just to be able to protect the sheep in my flock and I’d like to be able protect my family or those who can’t protect themselves if a terrible situation was to arise. But in my heart I’m praying for peace always. I don’t wish for any sort of violence.”
CMT.com: As an artist, what does it mean to you to have your music bring people together who typically wouldn’t hang out with each other otherwise?
Rock: That’s what I get off on in life. That’s what I think I do best. I’ve been told by some people I look up to that are heroes of mine, “Whatever it is, you’re good at bringing people together.” At least I was until this senate thing came up, and then half the country hated me.
How much of the music of The Delta has influenced your career? John Lee Hooker is from Mississippi, and he migrated to Detroit.
He wrote “Boogie Chillin'” and everything else on Hastings Street there. I mean, all of it. I don’t think there isn’t anything that hasn’t influenced me musically. I can always find something I love in anything. The music, the lyric, the melody — I can always find something there that inspires me. I’m one of those idiots that thinks, you know, I see a tight rope walker walking a tight rope and it looks fun, I’m like, “I can do that.” Of course, I can’t always. But I’m always willing to try.
Is this your most socially conscious record to date?
I don’t know if it’s that socially conscious. I don’t know. I’d have to think about that.
I think “Back to he Otherside” is going to be healing for a lot of people.
I hope so. That chorus is so beautiful. Hopefully the lyric touches people a little bit. That chorus gives you chill bumps because it’s so beautiful. I can’t take credit for that at all. But I’m trying to put out something that can change somebody’s life, [and let them know] shit gets better. Just hold on.
This album offers a lot of lyrics that would speak to people’s souls.
I hope that happens. I’ve heard stories. I heard one from the girl who told me the story about not getting along with her stepdad when her mom first got together with him. And they ended up riding around in his Camaro listening to my Cocky record and they bonded. They became friends. I’m like, “My Cocky record? My dirty ass record? Awesome.” That’s something you wouldn’t expect. But you hear those stories all the time, and it makes me feel good.
Here are the full track listing for Sweet Southern Sugar and the initial dates for 2018’s Greatest Show on Earth Tour:
Sweet Southern Sugar
1. “Greatest Show On Earth”
3. “Tennessee Mountain Top”
4. “I Wonder”
5. “American Rock ’n’ Roll”
6. “Back to the Otherside”
7. “Raining Whiskey”
8. “Stand the Pain”
9. “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch”
10. “Grandpa’s Jam”
Greatest Show on Earth Tour:
Jan. 19: Nashville, TN
Jan. 20: Louisville, KY
Jan. 25: Durant, OK
Jan. 26: Durant, OK
Jan. 27: Durant, OK
Feb. 2: Tulsa, OK
Feb. 3: Houston, TX
Feb. 9: Atlanta, GA
Feb. 10: Charlotte, NC
Feb. 16: Toronto, ON
Feb. 17: Columbus, OH
Feb. 23: Philadelphia, PA
Feb. 24: Cleveland, OH
Mar. 2: Uncasville, CT
Mar. 3: Baltimore, MD
Mar. 9: Newark, NJ
Mar. 10: Nassau, NY
Mar. 16: Chicago, IL
Mar. 17: Omaha, NE
Mar. 20: Denver, CO
Mar. 23: Phoenix, AZ
Mar. 24: Las Vegas, NV