Style: Hard Rock
Release Date: 22 Feb 2019
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I vaguely remember Tora Tora from that glorious time known as back in the day, if mostly from their contribution to the soundtrack for Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, Dancing with the Gypsy. Revisiting that in 2019, it feels like they were another rock 'n' roll band like Jetboy who weren't ever really glam metal but got lumped into that scene anyway and at exactly the wrong time. Their two initial albums came one on either side of Nirvana's epoch-changing Nevermind and that was it for Tora Tora.
Well, they reformed in 2008 and released a bunch of albums that look like old stuff, including their third album that was recorded in 1994 but not released until 2011. This one's entirely new, courtesy of Frontiers, an Italian record label that's almost keeping classic rock alive on its own nowadays, and it's a pretty damn good album. It makes me want to see the band live.
Tora Tora hail from Memphis and those who know their music history will know that the Beale of the title is Beale St., often described as the official home of the blues (if you don't know the history, they'll let you know about some of it on the title track), so it shouldn't be too surprising to find that the band have an overt foundation in that genre. This is good old blues-based hard rock and it would be perfect material for a Friday night out at a good bar that hosts live music. The instrumental, Vertigo, is reminiscent of the Mick Clarke Band, who aim at rock from the blues rather than the other way around.
While it sounds good from the outset, with a tight band playing deceptively loose material behind the smooth and confident vocals of Anthony Corder, it didn't grab me until Son of a Prodigal Son five tracks in. This is a gorgeous song, bluesy and soulful, but very southern and rooted in country, like a mid eighties hard rock quartet wondered at what Lynyrd Skynyrd would sound like a decade into the future.
Son of a Prodigal Son leads in to the soft but engrossing Lights Up the River and an agreeably rumbling Let Us Be One, which has an interesting guitar vibe to it, like the Devil taking a Chris Isaak tune and making it rock. With those three notably different but somehow consistent songs in a row, I was hooked and the earlier material made more sense on a second time through.
Part of the problem may have been that Giants Fall has a chorus that felt so familiar that I found myself singing along to Midnight Rider instead. Silence of Sirens comes early too and it's an odd phrase to throw into a chorus like that. It's a good song that builds well, with some neat and subtle guitarwork from Keith Douglas, but it's not the beautiful refrain that the lyrics state.
Silence of Sirens was the first single off the album and it's been followed already by Rose of Jericho, which has a more traditional lyric, exploring the history of rock 'n' roll in a set of descriptions we should be able to work out easily enough (like the "King of Tupelo" and the "Queen of Nutbush", for instance).
I may not remember Tora Tora well but I'm glad they're back and, on the basis of this material, I wish they'd have come back sooner. To quote from the title track, "All hail rock 'n' roll! Long live the Bastards of Beale!" That chorus has been stuck in my head for a week now and I'm not unhappy about it. I bet Tora Tora aren't either.