Kid Rock (Atlantic)
Hank Williams Jr.
I’m One of You (Curb)
The connection between Kid Rock and Hank Williams Jr. stretches back for years, but no doubt it continues to mystify some. Bocephus’ more devout country fans still see Kid Rock as a longhaired foulmouth of questionable talent, while the devoted hip-hop metalheads who bounce to the Kid wonder what’s up with the chubby, bearded lumberjack with the drawling bellow.
But by now, fans should see this unlikely friendship as the creative spark it’s become for both artists. The proof arrived on their recent albums, the self-titled Kid Rock and Hank Jr.’s I’m One of You. On both, the two move past their reliance on self-inflating boasts to concentrate on celebrating where they come from and what they care about. Even the self-mythologizing comes in small doses.
Despite their differences, both men have always shared thematic ties. They’re both self-confessed rowdies who come on strong and tout their ability to party. They like to brag and to sing about their tastes for wild women, especially the kind who would consider appearing in a bikini in a beer commercial an awesome career move. And their stage namesone’s a Kid, the other’s a Juniorsuggest prolonged adolescence.
The antithesis of fashionable modern pop and country stars, both also celebrate the raunchy, the tawdry and the irresponsible with unbridled hedonismjust as people from all levels of America do every weekend. They’re what you pop into the player when heading from work on Friday night. In their respective genres, they’re the grand pooh-bahs of the drinking-and-driving crowd, their CDs the most likely to be heard at keg parties and in strip-club parking lots.
On their new albums, the songs still share similar ideas, only this time they’re cross-pollinating each other’s musical arrangements. Kid Rock is suddenly more Southern rock than white-boy hip-hop, hiring Billy Gibbons and Kenny Wayne Shepherd on guitar, rewriting David Allan Coe songs and relying more on slide guitar and old-school Muscle Shoals rhythms. “I’m a funky country-rock soul-singing emcee,” he sings in “Intro,” proving there’s not a blue-collar demographic he doesn’t want to bring to the party.
Meanwhile, Hank Jr. is rocking harder and with more purpose than he has since the mid-’80s. Maybe it’s just good business sensesomething Junior often has demonstrated, but rarely gets credit for. For the new album, he devoted more time to finding the right songs, hired a better set of players, spent more money getting the sounds right and came out with a better album than he’s bothered to put together in a long time. And his carnival-barker bellow has never sounded more animated.
Maybe he realizes his stock is higher, thanks largely to Kid and some high-profile TV appearances. I’m One of You could use something as honest as Kid Rock’s “Run Off to L.A.,” a revealing kiss-off aimed at a certain Hollywood paramour; nonetheless, it’s good to hear Bocephus creating something this muscular again.
The two men first came together after Kid Rock hit with his 1998 album, Devil Without a Cause. In windy between-song monologues during his concerts, Rock started mentioning Hank Jr. in his pantheon of forbears and influences. Williams cannily played his card, connecting with Kid Rock and occasionally joining him onstage. A friendship ensued: Williams learned that Kid Rockborn Bob Ritchie in January 1971 in a Detroit suburbgrew up on country records and that he loved Southern rock as well as rap, hard rock and classic rock.
Behind the scenes, Rock is a generous friend, showing up when needed, phoning to celebrate the victories and mourn the losses. When Waylon Jennings, a close friend and mentor to Williams, died, Kid Rock was the one who mentioned his passing on the Grammy Awards. Rock also joined Bocephus in mourning the deaths of Williams’ godmother, June Carter Cash, and another mentor, Johnny Cash.
Oddly enough, in “Rock and Roll Pain Train” and other songs, Kid Rock talks about maturing, about getting back to the country and his family and away from the all-night party track. Hank Jr., on the other hand, sounds younger and more capable of living up to his image than he has in recent years.
Kid Rock’s “Hillbilly Stomp” even goes as far as referencing mud flaps, ham hocks, moonshine and big mesh hats. He also rhymes “God bless” with “I don’t do drugs anymoreor any less.” It’s a crass sentiment, for sure, but one that bluntly sums up the Southern-based tension between salvation and sin. That tension is the one that Hank Williams Sr. embodied as well as any artist. No wonder Kid Rock and Hank Jr. get along so well.
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