As a self-confessed shirker of “talent shows”, the name Caleb Johnson meant nothing to me before ascending the raucous climb of Mountain Mojo, Vol. 1. For those that bask in the riot and rapture of grass-fed, hickory smoked rock ‘n’ roll, this statement is as bold and meaty as your rib bones come.
Best known as the 13th winner of American Idol, Johnson has a voice capable of shaking the summit from below ground level. With the bloodline pedigree of Jason Bonham thundering down on drums, a trio of axemen including Tyler Bryant, Damon Johnson from the current Thin Lizzy line-up and Audley Reed – former six-stringer of the criminally underappreciated Cry Of Love add star-studded quality to this magnificent seven track record.
“Dead Man Walking Blues” has a Rival Sons mood to it with the 30-year-old resurrecting the spirit of his biggest influence – Chris Cornell. Only this heavily digs its boots into a southern rock Eden rather than the band name where the late, great vocalist made his name. Johnson (Damon) numbs the listener even further with some sublime fretwork, in particular during the closing stages.
“Hurricane” clatters into you without warning once the tender acoustic introduction briefly brings a halt to the driving rain. One of the world’s anointed gospel singers Angela Primm inspires the almighty with her uplifting range on backing vocals, and there is even space for a colourful gale of Hammond organ.
“Glory Bound” is more than worthy of a place on the medal ceremony podium as Reed enters the fold with a roving riff that thrills and overspills into a cultured solo that more than does justice to his talent and killer tone.
“Drift Away” is a cover of a song written by country songwriter Mentor Williams back in 1970. Lyrically it sums the album up perfectly as Johnson soulfully belts out ‘I wanna get lost in your rock ‘n’ roll’. Mid-paced and crooning with depth, an unplugged version of this song also features as the final track.
“Child Of The Wild” showcases Johnson’s impressive voice as he wails for ‘mercy on a sinner’ in the soaring chorus, while Bonham once again shines with his trusted blend of brawn and flawless technique.
Penultimate song “I Just Want To Celebrate” sees Nashville’s blues rock sensation Tyler Bryant join the party – most certainly a case of better late than never. Bringing all the wonderful elements of the album together, this is the perfect excess of soul and bluesy gospel rock spurring the blood to pump in utter merriment.
Johnson and his cohorts may well have released an album of the year contender here by scaling their highest peak yet. This is straight-up, impeccable rock ‘n’ roll decadence that catapults you to the edge of the mountain cliff. Here’s praying for a Vol.2.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– Dead Man Walking Blues
– Glory Bound
– I Just Want To Celebrate
The Big Hit
– I Just Want To Celebrate