By JAY ROBERTS
The Cassette Chronicles is a continuing series of mini reviews and reflections on albums from the 1980’s and 1990’s. The aim of this series is to highlight both known and underappreciated albums from rock, pop and metal genres from this time period through the cassette editions of their releases. Some of the albums I have known about and loved for years, while others are new to me and were music I’ve always wanted to hear. There will be some review analysis and my own personal stories about my connection with various albums. These opinions are strictly my own and do not reflect the views of anyone else at Limelight Magazine.
TORA TORA – WILD AMERICA (1992)
It has been a pretty long and winding road that led me to finally hearing Tora Tora’s second album Wild America.
I’d written about their debut album Surprise Attack for The Cassette Chronicles back in early 2018. In doing so I actually discovered that the band had released Wild America and recorded a third album (Revolution Day) which ended up not being released until 2011. But I didn’t know any of that before writing that first article on the band. Then in 2019, Tora Tora released the phenomenal album Bastards of Beale and I got to see them live in concert (and met them before the show) in August 2019. I had such a great experience reviewing both that album and show that I started seeking out the two missing albums. I thought that I’d had a line on getting CD editions for both releases but that fell through on me. And the online auction sites either had them for a big cost or not at all.
And then comes my record shop owning friend Roger. He purchased a large collection of CDs and cassettes recently and sent me some photos of cassettes he got and there in the bottom of one stack was Wild America! I HAD TO HAVE IT!!!
The day after I picked up the cassette, I got up and once I puttered around the house for a bit I popped the cassette in the stereo to get my first listen to an album I’d been eagerly anticipating to say the least.
Let’s just say I was not disappointed. I vaguely recall reading something online that said Wild America showed the band in a much more mature light in terms of songwriting. I’d be hard-pressed to argue with that contention because the album is just marvelous.
Seriously, the band kicks off the album with the title track and never really lets up from there. The “Wild America” song is a fast rocking and butt-kicking track that gives the listener a jolt of energy which is continually replenished throughout the album’s 11 tracks.
The mix of hard rock with bluesy soulfulness blends together seamlessly as the singer Anthony Corder’s vocals range from shout it out loud to a whiskey soaked inflection depending on the needs of the song. Guitarist Keith Douglas, bassist Patrick Francis and drummer John Patterson can rock out with a metallic fist or a velvet glove and do so effortlessly.
I loved the song “Amnesia” which has an up-tempo kind of swinging rhythmic feel to it. Corder’s vocals and the big backing vocal sound on the song’s chorus help enhance the song as a whole.
The Memphis Horns are featured on the song “Dead Man’s Hand” and that really gives the song an extra edge to it. There’s a sweetly rocking groove to the song and the solo from Keith Douglas is fantastic.
While most of the material on Wild America leans towards the more rocking side of the band’s nature, when the slow things down on songs like the lyrically contemplative “As Time Goes By” or the heavily bluesy sounding “Nowwhere To Go But Down”, I found them to be just as intense even if they were lacking in the pure adrenaline feel of their faster material. On “Nowhere To Go But Down”, I loved the way the opening verse was a spare musical arrangement with Corder’s vocals before the full musical soundtrack kicked in.
That blues rock side of the band gets more of a spotlight throughout the album but I thought the intro that fueled “Lay Your Money Down”, combined with a rather impressive vocal take made the song one of the stronger highlights for the album. There’s a strong rocking groove on songs like “Dirty Little Secrets” and “Faith Healer” as well.
And though I don’t want to be seen as diminishing any of those songs in the least (because I’m not), I really came away impressed when the band just fed the listener a blazing rock number too.
You had songs like “Shattered” which hit that benchmark but I think it really all came together on that particular songwriting front with the song “Cold Fever”. It is an aggressively rocking tempo that finds Tora Tora bleeding fiery fury. The killer chorus for the song also ups the amperage on the song too.
I really can’t say anything bad about this album. I didn’t have any kind of nitpicky issue with any of the eleven songs and the performances are seamlessly blended together to show just exactly what Tora Tora had going for them at the time. I know that I say this with the benefit of being nearly three decades removed from the original release of the album but good is good no matter when you hear it. And I find that Wild America surpasses the “good” designation with barely a sweat broken. Instead, this is a GREAT album and I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten to hear it because it has only increased my ever-growing fandom for the band.
NOTES OF INTEREST: Stan Lynch, best known for his work as part of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers co-wrote the songs “Dead Man’s Hand” and “Nowhere To Go But Down”.
The late Jimi Jamison contributed backing vocals to the Wild America album. However, he’s credited as Jim Jamison in the liner notes.