American Idol winner Caleb Johnson is scheduled to release his new album Born From Southern Ground next month. The rocker and his backing band, The Ramblin’ Saints will release the 10-song record June 14 through Big Johnson Records. Listening through this latest offering from the singer and his fellow musicians – which is actually Johnson’s sophomore album – it goes without saying that this new record could be the record that breaks Johnson into the mainstream and makes him more than just another alum from that TV karaoke contest. That is due both to the record’s musical arrangements and its lyrical themes. ‘Sugar,’ which comes early in the record’s run is just one of the songs that serves to support those statements. It will be discussed shortly. ‘Hanging With The Band’ does just as much to support those statements, both with its full electric and acoustic takes. It will be discussed a little later. ‘It’s Not The End’ also supports the noted statements. When it is considered along with ‘Sugar,’ ‘Hanging With The Band’ and the rest of the record, the whole of BFSG becomes a work that makes Johnson more than just another one-off winner of one of TV’s many karaoke contests, but a truly viable rock star.
Caleb Johnson & The Ramblin’ Saints’ new album Born From Southern Ground is one of the most surprising records to be released so far this year. It is a work that proves Caleb is the real deal and not just another forgettable member of one of the show’s season lineups. These statements are supported early on in the album in the form of ‘Sugar.’ The song’s musical arrangement almost immediately conjures thoughts of Lenny Kravitz’s hit song ‘Are You Gonna Go My Way’ thanks to the guitar riff. That same riff is echoed in the song’s chorus, adding even more to that comparison. The inclusion of the keyboard line in the verses leads to a slight comparison to Peter Gabriel’s equally famed song ‘Sledgehammer.’ The two comparisons don’t seem to work in concept, but the way in which Johnson and his fellow musicians have used those influences makes the song in general work quite surprisingly well. In fact they make this arrangement one of the song’s best compositions. While the composition in itself makes for plenty of enjoyment for listeners, it is just one part of what makes the song such a strong addition to the record. The song’s accessible lyrical content adds to its appeal.
Johnson sings in the song’s lead verse, “It’s late in the evening/And my fever’s getting high/You know I got a sweet tooth that can last all night/You go the power/’Cause your love is so divine/Well just gimme some of that sweet sugar/Make me feel satisfied/Gimme some of that sugar.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “Now, someone call the doctor/’Cause my love is fading fast/I think I broke my fever/But this hunger will not pass/Somebody help me/Please my appetite/Just gimme some of that sweet sugar/Make me feel satisfied/Gimme some of your sugar/Little kiss on the cheek.” There’s pretty much no doubt about this song. This is one of those come hither, randy type of songs that is certain to get people moving in more ways than one. That is the case both in terms of these lyrics and the song’s upbeat musical arrangement. When the two elements are considered together, the end result is a work that shows with ease just what makes BFSG a success. It is just one of the album’s most notable offerings. ‘Hanging With The Band’ is another easily accessible addition to BFSG, and shows in its own way what makes the album such a strong new offering from Johnson and company.
‘Hanging With The Band’ stands out, just as with ‘Sugar,’ in part because of its musical arrangement. This applies both to the song’s full electric take and its acoustic version. The electric arrangement conjures thoughts of Bob Seger and Zac Brown Band (fitting, considering that BFSG was recorded at Brown’s Southern Ground Studios). The song’s acoustic take stands very well on its own merits in terms of its arrangement. In gives the song a whole new identity, as a matter of fact; an identity that is just as enjoyable as the song’s electric take. It’s not the first time any act has ever crafted such an arrangement, but it is no less enjoyable here than in the case of other acts. To that end, it does plenty to keep listeners engaged and entertained. It is just one part of what makes the song stand out. The song’s lyrical theme does just as much to make the song appealing.
The song, lyrically, is another relatively simple work, on the surface. It is a song that finds Johnson celebrating the simpler times in his life. On a deeper level though, that celebration becomes a statement that will resonate with listeners as they think about the joys of the simple aspects of their own lives. He sings in the song’s lead verse, “Sometimes on hot nights like this/I can’t help but reminisce/About the wild-eyed, getting’ high, reckless innocence/Teenage girls and hometown boys/Just making out and making noise/Never knew fear/Just cheap beer and cigarettes/Dive bars, guitars, singing Turn the Page/Said one day, we’ll make it/Hit the big stage/Good times when life was easy/Wild nights and whiskey dreamin’/Rock and roll queens and kings every single summer/Live loud and it didn’t matter/Drove fast and loved even faster/Memories comin’ rushin’ back like the spell I’m under/Makes me close my eyes, get high and drink a cup of gin/Tonight’s alright with you/I’m hanging with the band.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “Who says all those days are gone/When everybody sings along/I’m still pissin’ off every single neighbor in the neighborhood/I hope this party never ends/Love my family, I love my friend/I would take a trip back if I could/Dive bars, guitars, singing Walk This Way/Said one day, we’ll make it/Hit the big stage/ Good times when life was easy/Wild nights and whiskey dreamin’/Rock and roll queens and kings every single summer/Live loud and it didn’t matter/Drove fast and loved even faster/Memories comin’ rushin’ back like the spell I’m under/Makes me close my eyes, get high and drink a cup of gin/Tonight’s alright with you/I’m hanging with the band.” There is no doubt from this, that again, this song is a celebration of Johnson’s life pre-celebrity. While most of us may never know the celebrity life, it still is a story to which so many listeners can relate. That is because it will lead listeners to appreciate the simplicity of their own lives; those friends and family, and just being able to live life. That accessibility through the song’s lyrical content couples with the accessibility of the song’s musical arrangement and creates a whole that is yet another clear example of what makes BFSG a strong new offering from Caleb Johnson. It still is hardly the last of the songs that can be cited in supporting that statement. The even more powerful song that is ‘It’s Not The End’ is yet another example of what makes the album so strong.
‘It’s Not The End’ presents in its musical arrangement an old school, piano-driven ballad that is certain to appeal to a wide range of listeners. The song starts off simply with that piano and Johnson’s vocals in the opening measures before gradually building to its climactic, almost gospel style finale. What is truly interesting here is that Johnson’s vocal delivery this time actually echoes that of former Journey front man Steve Perry. The whole of the arrangement is a work that exhibits great power that will certainly create great emotion in listeners’ minds and hearts. That power and emotion grow even more through the song’s uplifting lyrical message of believing in one’s self.
Johnson sings in the song’s lead verse, “When you’re/Feeling/Like there’s nothing to believe in/It’s not the end/You’re fighting…battling your demons/It’s not the end/The angel beside you/Is waiting to show you the way/It’s not the end/It’s just the beginning/Let go of yourselves/While you’re holding on/If you’re lost in the dark/No matter where you are/The sun will shine again/No, it’s not the end.” He continues in the song’s second verse, “When your hope and faith is wearing thin/It’s not the end/there’s a new day/Blowing out the candle in the wind/Let it begin/So right here and now/The pain and the doubt/Let it all out/It’s not the end/It’s just the beginning/Let go of yourselves/While you’re holding on/If you’re lost in the dark/No matter where you are/The sun will shine again/No, it’s not the end.” This is hardly the first time that any artist or act across the musical universe has ever presented such a message, but that does not make it any less powerful and welcome in Johnson’s case. If anything, this message, coupled with the song’s equally powerful musical arrangements is just as welcome as any similar song from any other performer or act past and present. It even brought tears to this big tough guy critic’s eyes. Yes, that was just admitted to here. The joining of the song’s arrangement and lyrical content is certain to make this song a fan favorite both on record and in person at Johnson’s shows. It could just as easily be used for so many movie soundtracks and commercials. That is how much the song stands out in whole. When it is considered along with the equally accessible songs noted here and the rest of the album’s works, the whole of the album becomes a record that not only certifies Caleb Johnson as a bona fide rock star, but in itself “births” new hope for the future of rock and roll.
Caleb Johnson started out his career in the music industry as a contestant on a TV karaoke contest show. Now years after he won the 13th season of that competition show, he has released in his sophomore album Born From Southern Ground, a work that exhibits everything that is good and right with rock and roll. It also certifies Johnson’s place in the music community. That is made clear through the songs discussed in this review, as well as the rest of the album’s songs. When they are considered together, they make Born From Southern Ground one of the year’s most welcome surprises and one more of the year’s top new rock records. Born From Southern Ground is scheduled for release June 14 through Big Johnson Records. More information on the album is available online now along with all of Caleb Johnson’s latest news at:
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