Caleb Johnson • Testify • 19 Records • US Release Date: August 12, 2014
There was once a time when winning American Idol was prestigious and could elevate a dreamer’s record career to reality with respectable results. Unfortunately, like Nelly Furtado once sang, “why must all good things come to an end?” Caleb Johnson became the 13th victor of American Idol, though to little fanfare. Like Candice Glover, Wetmore found himself on a season with less buzz than previous blockbuster ones.
Much like the show itself, the release of Caleb Johnson’s debut Testify is low-key. Wetmore becomes the first winner to drop his album during the summer of the same year he won. The album is skinny at 35 minutes, but perhaps that’s great, considering that the lucrativeness of the Idol brand commercially is dropping. Testify as an album definitely has high-flying vocals courtesy of the talented Wetmore, and some solid material.
Johnson’s debut opens in quick, rocking fashion with “Sailing Away.” On the opener, Johnson is able to show of his powerful pipes, with some sweet falsetto intact. “Sailing Away” definitely has an old school, traditional rock appeal. On “Save Me,” momentum remains strong, as Johnson solidly delivers this blues-rock standout. Horns and dramatic, powerhouse vocals make “Let Me In” enjoyable, capping off a sound opening trio.
“Only One” begins a bit more restrained, but the power is fully intact by the chorus, when Johnson ascends into his powerful upper register. “Only One” isn’t quite as well-rounded as previous cuts, but it’s no slouch either. Heart wrenching ballad “Fighting Gravity” is definitely more moving in addition to sporting better writing and overall pacing. Johnson gets to hard rocking once more on “Devil’s Daughter” – the type of record Aerosmith/Steven Tyler would eat up.
On “Another Life,” Johnson’s vocals remain clear, cutting through the production with ease. In addition to the catchiness of the song and Johnson’s vocal prowess, the overall production and harmonic progression shine here. Ballad “Change” features some of the most thoughtful and emotional lyrics from Testify, as Johnson sings, “And when I close my eyes / it takes me back in time / and I still see you walk away / I made it so hard / and pushed you too far / and there’s no one else to blame / I wish I could change.” Johnson continues to flex.
Title track “Testify” appears as the penultimate track, once more kicking the tempo up and finding Johnson in high gear. Keeping things exciting, closing cut “As Long As You Love Me” remains powerful, quick and grooving. “As long as you love me, I’m in heaven,” Johnson sings at the tail-end of the chorus.
All in all, Testify, despite it’s quick turnaround, is a solid debut album. Whether Johnson’s immense talent will be enough to catapult him to superstar status is a separate matter, but Testify definitely shows off tremendous potential with a high ceiling. Hopefully, Johnson can find a way to breakthrough beyond the limitations of the aging television show – he certainly transcends such.
Favorites: “Sailing Away,” “Save Me,” “Fighting Gravity,” “As Long As You Love Me”