Hot off the momentum from his 2014 American Idol crown, North Carolina rocker Caleb Johnson takes a victory lap with his debut album, Testify. While it's hard for the public to know how much control a new Idol winner actually has over his/her first proper release, the album does seem to line up with Johnson's pre-Idol roots as the metal-loving lead singer of Asheville hard rockers Elijah Hooker, who released their own debut just prior to Johnson's emergence on the show. Knocked out in a furious three weeks with producer Howard Benson, who is responsible for mainstream acts as disparate as My Chemical Romance and Rascal Flatts, Testify dials up the rock theatrics for a riffy, vaguely Southern-leaning romp that is surprisingly fun and entertaining. Front-loaded with two of the heaviest (and best) cuts, "Sailing Away" and "Save Me," the album also dishes out a handful of ballads and bluesy numbers but is at its best when Johnson lends his formidable chops to the type of over the top stadium thumpers that connected with fans on Idol. In those moments, he exudes a refreshing freewheeling charm that harks back to the '70s heyday of Meat Loaf and Kiss, seeming to take himself less seriously than so many other Idol alums vying for pop relevance. Or maybe it's that he takes his rock very seriously, attacking classic rock tropes with a hearty Jack Black-esque zeal that is ultimately charming. Pegging Darkness frontman Justin Hawkins to pen the lead single "As Long as You Love Me" was a stroke of genius, aligning Johnson squarely with the school of rock where his strengths lie. Testify is by no means a great album, but that powerful voice and magnetic personality that won over so many fans are absolutely present as Johnson delivers a solid first effort.
by Timothy Monger