Kip Moore entered my life the way most country singers did in 2011 — by singing about a truck. More precisely, “Somethin’ ‘Bout a Truck.” For months on end the cheeky, feel-good track was playing every time I turned on the radio. Successful follow-up singles “Beer Money” and “Hey Pretty Girl” ostensibly signalled Kip’s coming country stardom. Until, of course, they didn’t. Nine years later, Wild World finds a contemplative Kip carving out a thoughtful plot of country music for himself outside of Nashville — a star unrealized, but a star nonetheless.

The new Kip Moore is gritty. In his current single “Red White Blue Jean American Dream,” Moore traces artists’ pilgrimages across America, but having grown out his hair and traded in baseball caps for beanies, it’s clear the former Nashville cookie cutter has gone on a self-actualization journey of his own. “Dylan went to New York, Cash went to Nashville / Mark Twain floated on the Mississippi Queen” he chants. I imagine an autobiographical addition to the song going like this: Moore went to Red River Gorge, Kentucky. 

That’s where we find him in Wild World’s promotional documentary “7 Days at the Rock.” While some clips could be mistaken for a luxury outdoors-wear commercial, I was stunned by how closely certain images resembled the texture I had imagined listening to Moore’s album. At one point, Kip sits in a rustic-looking rocking chair while sipping black coffee, strumming along to the sounds of the woods and playing for a cat called Boots. 

And yet, Kip Moore is no Tyler Childers. Despite planting roots in Appalachia, Wild World’s sound is recognizably mainstream. With crisp production that favors electric guitar riffs and arena-ready drums over fiddle solos, there’s no mistaking Kip’s music for Americana. But his raspy voice and use of recognizably real instruments means Moore doesn’t sound pop either. Instead, Kip’s country music lands closer to rock. Still, Wild World’s earthy tones aren’t accidental, but align with the richness of its stories. 

“Janie Blu” outlines the trappings of a strained relationship and addiction. “Southpaw” serves as Moore’s “gunslinging” mission statement. “Fire or Flame” watches Kip wrestle not with faith, but his inclination to ramble toward the light and trouble. “He took my hand, I shook it free” he smirks. And those are just the first three songs. “It’s a wild world,” Moore claims in the title track, so he promises to “stay wild” too.

Rock climbing, surfing, skateboarding — “7 Days at the Rock” shows how dedicated Moore is to keeping that promise. What it fails to show however, is any desire Kip might have to get back to the top of the country charts. The hopeful “She’s Mine” and rollicking “South” both reveal glimmers of the Kip we met in 2011. These songs have the kind of bouncy, up-beat production and sing-along ready lyrics that once upon a time would have made for country radio gold. 

Near the end of “7 Days at the Rock,” Moore starts singing unaccompanied while staring solemnly into a fire pit. “Payin’ Hard” details his regret about lost love and lost time with his late father from playing shows instead. “My life’s a credit card / play now, pay later and I’m payin’ hard” he whispers, presumably to himself, his voice cracking alongside the fire. As sentimental as it sounds — it works. Moore’s quasi-outsider status makes his lows feel more relatable than those of his hitmaker peers.

The landscape of Moore’s Wild World is practically devoid of trucks, beer and explicitly “pretty girls.” But that’s not why I was so taken by it. Country radio is a finicky beast and it made Moore a different kind of outlaw. He was spit out of the Nashville scene just as quickly as he was taken in. Lucky for us, some things grow better in the dark — Kip Moore is one of them.

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