Album Review- Tora Tora: Bastards Of Beale

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Tora Tora are a hard rock band that formed in Memphis at the tail end of the 80’s unfortunately sandwiched between the Glam acts and the heavy hitting Grunge bands soon to come. While they did have some minor hits and fairly strong albums with “Surprise Attack” and “Wild America”, they never saw much more than a cult status and soon folded after planning a third album that never was released. However with the recent onslaught of more obscure acts returning with full-fledged reunions, the time seems right to give this little Bluesy Hard Rock group a second chance and the market seems ripe for their return. Finally in early 2019, we are seeing the next chapter of Tora Tora entitled “Bastards of Beale”.

Right away the band come out swinging with the heavy Bluesy hard rock sound they reveled in when they first formed. We see opener “Sons of Zebedee” keeping a refined melodic rock sound all the way through its chorus all the way to the very upbeat “Silence the Sirens” which is one of my favorites here. Another major highlight is “Son of a Prodigal Son” which has an almost vintage country stomp to it with driving acoustic guitars against heavier electric guitar riffs. The production I also have to say fits the bands character as well. Every instrument is mixed evenly together and still are able to give off a garage band sort of vibe where everything still feels loose and organic. Songwriting-wise, the arrangements are very simple in their execution but hold a lot in terms of feeling and that can be heavily attributed to Anthony Corder’s soulful voice. Besides a lot of other standout rockers such as “Rose Of Jericho” and the swaggering title track, we also get some softer sides such as “Lights up the River” which absolute shines. It adds more to what is already a terrific rock solid album.

Honestly, this album is one of the major early highlights of the year and it is a totally unexpected one. While I love when bands expand their sounds to new musical heights, sometimes it is great to just put on a simple rock record with song after song of catchy hooks to keep you coming back for more which is what you exactly get here. Tora Tora have released a record in 2019 that’s a statement showing that straight forward rock n roll ain’t dead and that they aren’t either and are here to show the kids how to do it right.

 

Geordie: A Retrospective

 

 

Some groups in the history of Rock music tend to go overshadowed especially when a member becomes part of a much larger and established act. An absolute perfect example of this the band out of Newcastle, England known as Geordie. Forming around 1972, the group would release a string of albums throughout the 1970’s beginning with “Hope You Like It” and ending with “No Sweat” in 1983. However the bands most notable work was the four albums performed with Brian Johnson as their lead vocalist. Johnson of course is known as being the vocalist of my personal favorite band of all time ACDC from 1980 until 2016. However, I have always been surprised that it had taken me so long to listen to his previous groups work as (spoiler alert) it is very quality blues driven hard rock from the seventies with every albums having some characteristics that are unique to each which makes for very refreshing listens throughout. So as this article is titled, I am going to take you through a short and sweet retrospective of one of Englands most underrated Hard Rock acts that deserve more credit than they are given.

 

Hope You Like It (1973)

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When I first heard Goerdie’s debut album, I didn’t think it was their debut as it has the sound of a well oiled seasoned machine. The band crafted a sound right from the get go that would essentially be their establish go to sound for future releases. Right from the start with the groovy “Keep On Rockin'” does the band go for throat with their blues driven sound with Johnson even using his signature higher pitched snarl throughout that he’s become famous for years later. The band then rolls right into”Give You Till Monday” with the main focus of straight ahead power chord riffing mixing with some subtle melody proving simplicity can be best when done right. The title track is a more sing along tune with the vocals being presented more in a softer and slick way. it is also one of the first songs where we see a lot of bridging vocal and guitar melodies that really drive the song. Songs like “Don’t Do That” and “All Because Of You” continue that bluesy pub Rock sound that personally doesn’t get old as the band plays it really tight and with a lot of enthusiasm. One of the best tunes on the album is”Old Time Rocker” which is actually more rockabilly oriented and it works really damn well and is a major highlight on the album. The album does mix softer songs in like “Oh Lord” that is a nice short change of pace before going back into the final stretch of the album. The final track which is a traditional song that the band worked in called “Geordies’s Lost His Liggie” is a funny and quirky way to end an extremely solid debut album. The reissued version actually includes six additional tracks including a personal favorite “Can You Do It” and “Geordie Stomp” among others making it the definitive version of this album. Geordie definitely set the bar high with their debut and a sophomore release was sure to follow as well.

Don’t Be Fooled By The Name (1974)

 

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Following their debut, Geordie quickly recorded and released their follow up album which has alot of the same character and strength the first album had with the main focus being blues based riffing through out. From the heavy and singable “Goin’ Down” to “Mercenary Man” with its rock solid riffing that also hides melodic undertones within Johnsons softer vocal deliveries. One of my favorites presented here is “Ten Feet Tall” which has a very heavy rock presence but an almost psychedelic midsection that really works only for the song to have a very explosive end. There are riffs galore here and show how underrated Vic Malcolm is as a guitar player. He plays with such ferocity yet can dial it back for some nice cleaner more melodic tones as well.  However the subtle variation is very welcome with the presence of keyboards in songs like the mellow yet welcoming ballad “Little Boy” and “Got To Know” which is personally my favorite song on the album with how upbeat and bouncy the rhythm is it just grooves through in and through out. Now of course the album is possibly most well known for the bands cover of “House Of The Rising Sun” and it is probably my favorite version of the song with the low droning humming throughout and Brians vocals going from clean to his signature snarl works so well. Overall, this album is a true unsung rock masterpiece and it is a shame more people don’t know of it as it has a lot of staying power and memorable moments throughout.

Save The World (1976)

 

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As Geordie went into creating their third album, the band had progressed their sound a bit more to a more pop rock oriented sound. I feel like out of all their albums up to this point, this one has the tag “Glam Rock” tied to it mostly. While a lot of the songs still retain their catchy Blues driven Hard Rock sound, they have a bit more upbeat feeling to them which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The band still sound as lively as ever right from the beginning notes of the very catchy and bouncy “Mama’s Gonna Take You Home” into one of my favorite songs the band has ever recorded “She’s a Teaser” which is complete with a horn section adding a lot to the song. There are even some hints of disco in the song “Goodbye Love” which at first I was taken back from as it goes for a less heavy sound to it. But after multiple listens it is a great bouncy rock tune that really sticks in your head and is one of the highlights on the album. Another highlight is the song “She’s A Lady” which is a straight Glam Rock number that is put together oh so well. Now obviously with this slightly tweaked sound, the album has a bit more of a commercial feel than the previous two but it still rocks with a bit of a pop flare and it works. The heavy moments are still present especially in songs like the grooving, guitar phaser driven “Save The World” and the incredibly heavy “Fire Queen” which is possibly the best song on the album. Although the album has a bit of a softer edge in spots, it still rocks hard when it wants to and the band has a lot of charisma as this would be possibly the last album with a stable line up as the next would feature more revolving musicians.

No Good Woman (1978)

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This album features brand new vocalist Dave Ditchburn with Johnson having only recorded a few key tracks before leaving the band and soon enough landing at the doorstep for AC/DC and the rest would be history…But anyway, back to the album. While the opener and title track has a good groove to it with some nice keyboard presence, the production feels a bit too heavy on the bass side as it makes the whole band feel a bit too laid back. It’s catchy but lacks that shot of charisma every album before had. However “Going To The City” quickly picks up the pace with Johnson back on vocals. You can definitely see the difference between both line ups as this track has so much more energy. Now “Wonder Song” does have a heavier tone to it akin to later Deep Purple and it really works well but the vocals just feel a bit underdeveloped. Ditchburn just sounds like he doesn’t have the range or the character in his voice or at least not enough of it. Honestly, the inconsistency I think is was kills this album a bit. With the focus shifting between both vocalists, it goes from powerful to laid back to up beat and in your face and then swings back to the bass heavy almost lounge rock sound the current line up had. If this was a whole album recorded with Ditchburn I feel I would accept it as is more but with it switching back and forth, it makes you wish Johnson was on the whole record. Now there are some good songs they recorded with Dave at the vocals including the groovy “Give It All You Got” and the bouncy “Show Business” which is another that gets stuck in my head. Overall, the album is good but not great like the rest of the bands discography to me anyways. It felt like the band lost their signature voice and were trying to find sort of a new sound. However I will mention the No Sweat album only briefly as the band definitely seemed to take a bit of a hint from NWOBHM group Saxon as they has a slicker heavier sound than they ever had before. Unfortunately the album failed to generate a buzz for Geordie who had been around for ten years at this point and they slowly faded into the halls of relative obscurity besides the minds of hardcore fans and/or ACDC completionists.

However, as we get further down the years, Geordie are a band that deserves to be remembered as having an arsenal of rock anthems that deserves to be dug out of the basement and heard by the masses. With enough swagger to push around the hardest rocking bands at the time but the accessibility of any songs on the radio at the time, Geordie’s music  is a great time all around and will always be. If you can find these albums I highly recommend it, they deserve to be cranked and rocked til the sun comes up.