Four decades on four discs: a testament to the Scottish premiere rockers’ still piling – and long overdue for this kind of compiling – legacy. All their greatest moments, plus long look on stage and a peek behind the scenes.
Perhaps, it’s their own fault that NAZARETH don’t bask in the same glories that the bands they usually get bracketed with, such as their old pals DEEP PURPLE. Perhaps, it’s because of their wider stylistic scope and down-to-earth attitude. But that’s exactly what makes the Scots an ever-interesting and arresting proposition, both on record and live, to which this box and this scribe bear witness. With two discs given mainly to the album material and the other two to the previously unreleased stuff, all remastered to reveal the subtleties of the music, the collection spans 40 years, from 1971 to 2001, crowns the Salvo reissue programme and encapsulates everything a casual listener and a lifelong fan alike need. But, frankly, everything one has to know about NAZ is packed in less than four minutes of “Razamanaz”: a microcosm of their very existence, a gist of their manner – those upgraded blues-based scuzz – and a promise the ensemble still live by. They’re first and foremost entertainers whose hard rock, a genre they’re quite blatantly pegged to, has not an iota of aggression, and even the group’s late ’70s attack of “Expect No Mercy” holds a hooligan grin rather than a murderous threat.
Yet it was there, alongside band’s omnipresent humor, in the beginning – it’s revealed by comparison of a grim album version of the fuzz-shot “Woke Up This Morning” on the first CD to its reckless, slide-oiled concert delivery on the third one: that’s where the NAZ spirit crystallizes to bloom from the SMALL FACES’ ghost of early B-side “If You See My Baby” to the streamlined force of “Go Down Fighting”. And there’s a mark of the band’s righteous judgment of what to release and what to leave out. Thus, dramatic “Storm Warning” and the bittersweet “Paper Sun”, cut in 1972-1973, make their public debut just now; the latter was played live at the time yet it looks like no recording of this survived – what did remain are brilliant takes on “Country Girl”, where the lads do their best BUFFALO SPRINGFIELD impression, and “Called Her Name” as well as the quartet’s readings of “Goin’ Down” and “Black Hearted Woman”, all ten funky minutes of it with tremendous interplay and a “Loch Lomond” quote that, later, would become part of the pipes-voicebox solo in the classic groover “Hair Of The Dog”. Where they failed when it came to delivering another cover, as opposed to their fantastic appropriation of THE EVERLY BROTHERS’ “Love Hurts” or Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight”, was on ABBA’s “S.O.S.” and CREAM’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”, wisely put on a shelf, but the failure turned into success as the former’s instrumental track became “This Month’s Messiah” which, while still cropping up in the group’s live repertoire, didn’t make it to the box. Their stage craft is represented therein generously, selections from 1975 and 1977 being of special interest, capturing the ensemble at the top of their game, where even excess was assessed in creative terms and meant the collective uninhibited roll of soulful songs from Dan McCafferty’s solo LP. Still, it’s on their own inventions such as furious “Kentucky Fried Blues” or “Telegram” that the team go rumbling in full, always with rich texture and detail.
It’s there in Darrell Sweet’s beat on a viscous charge of “When The Light Comes Down” laid down in 1998 a year before his death, in Manny Charlton’s country strum on the jolly “Place In Your Heart”, in Pete Agnew’s fierce bass swing on live rendition of “Night Woman” with a Grieg quote for an intro, in McCafferty’s silky rasp on “Dream On”. What with gorgeous balladry continuing in “Where Are You Now”, the Scots’ combination of heavy riffs and acoustic chime amounts to magical effect on the likes of “May The Sunshine” and even plastic “Cinema”, whereas gospel’s lift elevates “Heart’s Grown Cold” and skilful off-beat accent of “What You Gonna Do About It” shows all the ra(n)ge of NAZ’s influences that somehow homogenized in the ’80s. That era’s gloss didn’t serve the Dunfermline bunch so well, a string of rough demos sounding better than the issued results. However, “Whippin’ Boy” neatly stands in line with “Bad Bad Boy”, just as well as “Hair Of The Dog” has its successor in the sharp “Big Dog’s Gonna Howl” from the band’s latest record, out in 2011 and featuring the now-fledged songwriting team of current guitarist Jimmy Murrison and drummer Lee Agnew. This renders “NazBox” as non-definitive as it gets. And that is great.
Move Me / Boogaloo
Mayhem 1994 /
SPV 1998 /
Rejuvenated quartet finally get their momentum anew to set wheels in motion and charge ahead no matter what.
Whatever alternative movement early ’90s brought on the scene, one couldn’t deny those folks a massive hairiness, and when it comes to such a texture NAZ know no equal. Still, the bite of “Move Me” was amazingly strong and gave the band a push that still propels them forward. No less important felt the return of Scots’ patented humor which gets into focus on a contradiction between the vehicle on the cover and the fact that the title track is a gentle soul ballad of the Stax caliber. Taking the chug way down South in the way these Northerners always excelled in – hot ‘n’ nasty and whipped up by the swinging rhythm section – “Crack Me Up” and “Can’t Shake Those Shakes” set the rip-roaring benchmark, but not before “Let Me Be Your Dog” spills its sarcastic guts in the mandolin net and a self-deprecation that Dan McCafferty’s howl makes impossible to believe and the main writer Billy Rankin’s riffs render irresistible.
Been a long time since the group sounded as invigorated as they do on the speedy “Rip It Up” or “Bring It On Home Mama” where Darrell Sweet pushes their dynamic envelope, yet “Stand By Your Beds” and “Steamroller” embrace shiny modern grit – filigree picking, bricklaying pound – to snatch the Dunfermline ensemble’s arena influence back from Angus Young’s itchy pants. Still, it’s in “Demon Alcohol” that the country blues tradition and the NAZ scuzz meet to the greatest effect, what with those liquids which fuel the lads, the slide guitar sneaking into the smoother “You Had It Comin'”. For a grand finale “Burning Down”, march out anthemic from the same acoustic stomping ground on which grow their campfire sway unplugged bonuses including, most excitingly, “Razamanaz” to contrast an orchestral sweep of a majestic take on “Love Hurts”.
Yet “Boogaloo”, unleashed onto the public after a four-year recording sabbatical – an unheard of thing in the band’s narrative back then – leaves little space for subtleties despite turning into a quintet again thanks to old friend, the erstwhile STONE THE CROWES ivory-tinkler Ronnie Leahy. The band emerge out of the pit-stop at their most pummeling, fired up significantly by Jimmy Murrison’s axe who took over from Rankin to ignite his composer contributions. In places, NAZ’s newly gained heaviness tend to obstruct their regular mischief, on display in the reckless rock ‘n’ roll “Robber And The Roadie”, so “Party In The Kremlin” groans under its funky, if funny, weight, and the rage of “Nothing So Good” feels quite futile until its sunny coda invokes the memories from the early ’70s.
But an iron approach suits well the seductive boogie of “Light Comes Down” and the swing of “Open Up Woman”, and when the piano-spurted “Cheerleader” sources its zip from the same hormonal socket “Teenage Nervous Breakdown”, one senses the Scots’ finally got their long-expected second breath. More so, the veterans hide some aces up their sleeve, proudly wearing a plaid for the brazen Caledonian march which is “Talk Talk” and dressing “Loverman” in the brassy Philly glitz that sees Agnew go all sleazy sweet and McCafferty polish his soulful grit, while in the blues of “God Save The South”, where saxes blare and slider rolls up the neck, they’re Yankee-teasing Texas-bound. There’s the same infectious splash in “Waiting”, yet this time the game gets serious before in “May Heaven Keep You” the band deliver one of their most delicate, transparent ballads that swells up skywards on the wave of strings. The bonus “Laid To Wasted” picks up the gentle, lyrical mood, its lift and acoustic solo lending the album a smell of magical rebirth, whereas in “Walk By Yourself” Sweet lays a great beat for its echo to ring down the years as shortly after “Boogaloo” came out the drummer passed away. A new chapter of the story was ready to be written down.
****2/3 / ****4/5
Snakes ‘n’ Ladders /
Vertigo 1989 /
Griffin 1991 /
Reclaiming their patch of rock, the band feel their way back to stumble but not fall.
While some of the old guard in the heavy stakes spent mid to late ’80s in ignominious hibernation, NAZARETH didn’t stop – they fought hard, and once the ground solidified at the end of the decade their tally much improved. The quartet’s wild fervor manifested itself in “Animals”, the lead-in cut of “Snakes ‘n’ Ladders”, the album its creators tend to disown now while regularly pulling this acoustic-based raga-groover – that harks back to their classic “Judas” and sees Dan McCafferty rise to fever pitch – back into their set. Excellent songwriting throughout the platter, its problem lies in the production here which starts to sap the music’s energies after the first three tracks. But the triplet is as strong as the Scots’ early output, “Lady Luck” welcoming the foursome on the familiar blues soil where Manny Charlton delivers a fine slithery solo and then shoots a right dose of rage into the slick “Hang On To A Dream”. In their own inimitable manner NAZ completely transform the Tim Hardin staple and make it their own, which can’t be said of the group’s rather straightforward reading of perennial “Piece Of My Heart”, and Neil Young’s “Helpless”, a rather fitting description of the ensemble’s situation.
The feeling’s quite obvious in the insipid verses of “Back To School” and in “Girls”, too streamlined for its grainy-groiny good. Still, Pete Agnew’s bass throb shakes up the polish of “Trouble” with its humid jungle beat, whereas vocal sarcasm and, again, unplugged texture give a kick to “The Key”. By the same token, electricity runs through the anti-drugs rant of “Donna – Get Off That Crack”, a bit awkward yet whipping rocker which paves the way for the countrified glitter of “See You, See Me” that fails to lift off as it promises. The task is performed, though, by the singer-penned, radio-friendly in its pop-grandness, single “Winner Of The Night” sharing the bonus space there with a couple of live recordings that, in updated arrangements, send the listener back to the more happy times.
As does a 1991’s version of “This Flight Tonight” augmenting now “No Jive”, the band’s next album that they consider a new start. It saw the disillusioned Charlton out of the ranks, his replacement being the guitarist’s old sparring partner Billy Rankin who’d been minding his solo business since “Sound Elixir”. His sharp six-string figure stokes the flames of “Hire And Fire” and “Do You Wanna Play House” which catch the combo’s at their most predatory, yet the stadium-big choruses don’t suit the veterans as fine, and with no real solo the opener pair rather overstays its welcome, thus losing whatever impact the songs pack initially. But when this hollow rock ‘n’ rolling flows into the short and sleek “Right Between The Eyes”, the groove rolls back where it always belong for the Dunfermline bunch, while the folk thread running through “Every Time It Rains” saves this AOR ballad from its era glossy morass, where “Keeping Our Love Alive” makes little twangy splash, while “Cover Your Heart” sloppily blows up the previous LP’s “Piece Of My Heart” and sprinkles it with glitter.
Far from these, the record’s emotional and creative peak proves to be the link of traditional tune “The Rowan Tree” with “Tell Me That You Love Me” which pitches Scottish motif against country picking and Gargantuan riff that turn NAZ into marching Highlanders squad. No less interesting are “Lap Of Luxury”, one of the heaviest cuts the band ever did – sparse, the anxious air filling the space between guitar and Pete Agnew’s rumble – and “Thinkin’ Man’s Nightmare” with McCafferty exploring his lower register before letting rip. But “Cry Wolf”, Darrell Sweet’s cymbals’ efforts notwithstanding, blunts the edge somehow. No jive, indeed.
**** / **2/3
The Catch / Cinema
Vertigo 1984 / 1986 /
Back to the quartet and into the fray – with ho game to bring down.
For all the NAZARETH’s efforts to stand their ground in the ’80s, theirs was a losing game: changing their tack meant to lose themselves and become someone different but to run with the poodle metal pack, their oeuvre was too diverse. Still, the band, now a quartet again, tried to tune in to the times: cue 1984’s “The Catch”. It possesses an angry pearl, the heavily hung “This Month’s Messiah”, but to get there it takes to override some barriers. First off, there’s the alienating synthetic squelch between the bass and drums of 6-minute opener “Party Down” that Dan McCafferty hardly enlivens – if only in the live version on the second disc of this package, where Manny Charlton’s six-string jive is more prominent, and “Moondance” which doesn’t bloom into a ballad it hides in its funky core. More so, NAZARETH being masters of making others’ songs their own, make an ill-judged go at “Ruby Tuesday” rocking it up where a gentler touch is needed, although the guitar crunch and a bluegrass undercurrent adds some spice to the brew, while Goffin and King’s “Road To Nowhere” unfurls more tastefully.
Then, “Love Of Freedom” opens it lacquered slid to reveal a proud Scottish tune, for the post part scantily clad instrumentation-wise and all the better for it, and “Sweetheart Tree” is a boogie that the veterans deliver with their erstwhile zap, whereas the charged “Last Exit Brooklyn” rides its American sound with flying colors and in the hands of a young pop group could have been a smash. So the title “You Don’t Believe In Us”, too serious to dance to it groove, might challenge all fans, but it holds all the best its decade had to offer to the radio masses, up to a prick-and-caress electric lick, and B-side “Do You Think About It” shakes its wares in an alluring way.
1986’s “Cinema” sees the return of rifferama, its title track – pounding yet with a light chorus and a symphonic rise – throwing down a gantlet to the unbelievers, while thick rhythm of “Just Another Heartache” brings on a brilliant AOR assault and an update to a certain Bonnie Tyler’s cut. But whereas “Other Side Of You” wraps a rockabilly rag in a speedy hard rock foil to a great effect, and the glossy Americana roll of “One From The Heart” has a nice ardor to it, the rock ‘n’ roll in “Hit The Fan” feels too airy to give one’s feet a spin. “Salty Salty” raves nice but its “nah-nah’s” come too out-of-place amidst the powerful swing, and “Juliet” didn’t stand the test of time in its echo-laden, plastic tension, all the desperation notwithstanding. Yet “White Boy” stakes the heat toward the refrain in the best way possible, the quartet founding their ground to stand it proudly with “A Veterans’ Song” which flows like a mist from a loch onto the hills. The route back up is being marked here.
**1/2 / ***
2XS / Sound Elixir
A&M 1982 / MCA 1983 /
The old guard vs. new tendencies: the battle’s won – and then surrender.
Strange it may seem now but NAZARETH somehow missed the NWOBHM boom of which they, together with BLACK SABBATH, could have been the godfathers. Instead, the Scots chose the AOR way, and for “Fool Circle”, thanks to its diversity, the approach worked well. But the title of their next studio work is telling: too excessive in its desire to catch up with the times, the album goes against the very grain of the band’s hairy rock – yet in the end reveals its addictive core.
“2XS” sure falls in the shadow of the tremulous “Dream On”, NAZARETH’s original ballad to match their cover of “Love Hurts” and feature in their repertoire for decades to come with Dan McCafferty’s least hoarse vocals of all, but there’s more hidden delights such as “Lonely In The Night”, light but memorable due to its Spanish-tinged hook, or “You Love Another” that its Caribbean jive and a dub-like echo render almost transcendental. Still, the records starts in an awkward fashion with the ’60s girls groups indebted sway of “Love Leads To Madness”, its slick chorus smoothing the riff underneath before the rock ‘n’ roll groove cuts the dirt for “Boys In The Band” that takes itself too seriously to move one’s soul while the feet stomp, unlike “Take The Rap” that’s as reckless as it gets.
Pete Agnew’s bass-driven “Preservation” stays in the ditch, though, its plastic dance rhythm coated in too insipid a melody, and “Back To The Trenches” may echo the refrain of “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” without its catchiness, whereas the mix of Manny Charlton and Billy Rankin’s acoustic guitars and John Locke’s piano elevates the infectious boogie of “Gatecrash”. Yet the radio-friendly bricklaying of “Games” jars until Darrell Sweet turns the drift to a proud march, and “Mexico” – what a deceptive tag! – flies its Celtic colors even higher.
So what a downward spiral it is when “Sound Elixir”, the group’s next outing, turns the Gaelic licks of “All Nite Radio” into the MOR ripple for the chorus, and the stadium rock leanings give a lurch to a nice, sharp riff in “Whippin’ Boy”. Not that it’s bad: the album rounds off with “Where Are You Now”, arguably the sleaziest and most maudlin serenade for lost love the band have ever delivered, which possesses a winning sincerity and stands out still. The same can’t be said of the bravura American veneer of “Milk And Honey”, its bopping groove begging for the 12″ remix, the faux anger of “Why Don’t You Read The Book” that hurls its refrain into the void, and a pale slow funk of “I Ran”. At the same time, “Rain On The Window” stitches NAZARETH’s beloved country strum to the ’80s glossy flow, but strip it off, and the same folky grit rules the den in “Backroom Boys”.
The era’s values find their best implementation into NAZARETH’s texture in “Rags To Riches”, where the band’s hard rock is tamed enough to welcome a bubbly melody and a harmony-filled chorus to give FOREIGNER a run for their Transatlantic money: had it been released as a single, the Scots would have notched another hit. But “Local Still”, harking back to the good ol’ partying days, had no chance on this new ground, all its energy beamed to the loyal fans only. The rest would find this drink too confusing.
**** / **1/2
‘Snaz – House Full
A&M 1981 /
Vancouver shakedown: an atomic bomb of live record – a document of hope and glory.
All their records’ greatness notwithstanding, it’s on-stage that NAZARETH let their hair down (even with the hair quotient diminished), so it was worth to wait so long for the band’s first full-blown concert release. Preserved for posterity in Vancouver, where the Scots have built the most ardent fan base to even immortalize the city in a song, in May 1981, “Snaz” is a whole performance as opposed to the best pieces from several shows – and, as bonus cuts from Seattle demonstrate, without adding anything special to the legend, taped were more than one concert – which means here warts ‘n’ all. Well, there’s just the right dose of roughness in the mix, for the band, padded now with John Locke’s keyboards and Billy Rankin on second guitar, don’t stretch the spring with pointless soloing but squeeze every proton of the opportunity that their songs’ studio prototypes provide.
From the immense tone-setter which is “Telegram” closely followed by “Razamanaz” to the caressing desperation of “Love Hurts”, through “Holiday” and “Cocaine”, there’s nary a moment not breathe without gasping of rapture. While new inclusions such as “Let Me Be Your Leader” and “Big Boy”, with a freshly moulded synth piece in its center, allow a quick smoke, the sextet are on fire for the most of the set giving the bass-laden release on “Java Blues” and “I Want To Do Everything For You” to the high-octane delivery of “Expect No Mercy” and “Hair Of The Dog”. The expanded line-up sound most effective on “This Flight Tonight” – piano and acoustic guitar open an extra dimension to its spaceness – and “Every Young Man’s Dream” that upgrades its rather humble “Fool Circle original. It’s there that “Shapes Of Things” unfurls all its progressive grandeur, whereas NAZ’s take of ZZ TOP’s “Tush” end the proceedings on the jolly note the band are masters of.
Except for the concert, they give their fans two studio cuts: the slide-oiled boogie “Juicy Lucy” and, to link to their beginnings, a new go at of “Morning Dew”, joined here by its German version and a real rarity in the form of “Crazy” from the “Heavy Metal” soundtrack. Here’s one complete, or even over the top, package.
NAZARETH – Fool Circle
NAZ go pop to reinvent their formula and become the least formulaic Scottish collective.
The strangness of their previous effort showed that, for all the NAZARETH’s regular versatility, it would be hard to cling on to their past and embrace the future at the same time – a fool circle, indeed. But while many of their contemporaries fizzled out in the early ’80s or lost their soul, the stoic Dunfermline bunch persevered to make the boldest move of their career and deliver a true smash. It’s as glossy as its belle epoque dictated but it’s brimful of NAZ’s spirit.
The streamline opener “Dressed To Kill”, sprinkled with John Locke’s piano, states it all rather impudently – a “Razamanaz” for the new decade – and “Every Young Man’s Dream” hurls itself on the dancefloor thanks to Darrell Sweet’s straight beat against’ the lads’ posh harmonies, whereas “Little Part Of You” takes a disco thing too seriously. But then, the anti-nuclear “Pop The Silo”, bristling with Pete Agnew’s bass under the web of acoustic guitars from Manny Charlton, rages transparent yet wild, and the desperate chorus of “Another Year” pitches even more sharp anxiety into the wavy drift.
The record shakes its hidden political agenda in the blissful reggae of “Let Me Be Your Leader” and the sparkling tension builder “We Are The People”, yet its closer, “Victoria”, slides to close to THE KINKS’ song of the same name, so even the BEACH BOYS quote in it doesn’t bring a smile. But “Moonlight Eyes” is arguably Dan McCafferty’s most soulful moment: threatening to go too lachrymose, the singer’s Wilson Pickett tone makes the ballad a gem. Still, this falls in the shadow of “Cocaine”, the best cover of J.J. Cale’s classic ever, that catches the group in their zingy concert element, all acoustic strings blazing and the crowd going mad (the studio cut seems not to exist)
The definitive reissue features the whole of “Nazareth Live” EP, but though it’s interesting to hear early renditions of “Talkin’ To One Of The Boys” and “Heart’s Grown Cold”, it doesn’t have as much energy as typical NAZ gig has… perhaps, the momentum was being saved for the band’s next move.
Malice In Wonderland
A&M 1980 /
The climate’s changed, the band feel their way forwards and find it – in their own perky way.
Punk might have flown over the Scottish band’s collective head, yet the group couldn’t ignore the landscape they found themselves at the start of NAZ’s second decade. They could have lost their snap; instead, the ensemble engaged Jeff Baxter as a producer to smooth their hairy rock. The clue to their admission of the time’s new demands lie in this album’s closing track, the pounding “Turning A New Leaf”, but it can be felt from the off, from their eleventh record’s only true classic, “Holiday”: it’s contagious, humorous rock ‘n’ roll turns the luxury standards upside down in the same nihilistic style that punks executed. There’s enough spikes in between, too, so the drive prevails over the melodies, and while cuts “Showdown At The Border” and the moderately threatening “Talkin’ ‘Bout Love” boast a radio-friendly chorus, they don’t rattle the listener’s guts.
Still, a yob’s behavior is there for taking in the reggae-tinctured “Big Boy” – which is more moving in a live version among the BBC cuts added here as bonuses – and “Talkin’ To One Of The Boys” that gains momentum as it goes and loses its initial polish for good. But if the vibes-adorned “Fast Cars” panders to its era’s values with a horrible servility, the band’s delicate core comes totally unguarded in the acoustic ballad “Heart’s Grown Cold” with its uplifting gospel inflections. The posh string hardly enliven the folky flow of “Fallen Angels”, yet “Ship Of Dreams” for all its gloss bubbles with energy because of Spanish sun in its riff and the flamenco solo.
The overall effect might feel strange, but that’s about the way all transitions go, and NAZ came out the other side all duded up for the ’80s.
No Mean City
A&M 1979 /
The ranks expanded, the game rules embraced, the music gets leaner and meaner.
It took about a decade for NAZARETH to unchain themselves from the endless wheel of touring and recording to take a break and reassess the band’s approach to their chore of choice. What became clear was that, when many of the band’s contemporaries had been written off as obsolete, it would make sense to pander to the fans’ expectations, especially if it meant getting heavier rather than lightweight, and that the twin guitar attack would be a real gain. Cue Zal Cleminson, a former Alex Harvey axeman and the Dunfermline lads’ old friend. Tracklist-wise, his contribution are meagre – a previously unreleased gentle instrumental “Snaefell” showcasing the new six-string unit work, and the stomper “Simple Solution”, hung on the adorable “Hair Of The Dog” riff – but the freedom this approach brought to the playing is palpable.
The lead-up to “Just To Get Into It”, with a hint of “Flight Of The Bumblebee”, makes the opener buzz with excitement and catch no less than three solos on its rock ‘n’ roll spine, while “Claim To Fame” adds a good dose of menace to this, one of the sharpest NAZ collection. But it’s in the easygoing “Whatever You Want Me” where the Scots’ collective heart booms wild, spurned by the song’s galloping golden motif; the same warm joy spills from the acoustic cowboy ride of “May The Sunshine” painted over with bold, yet exquisite, electric strokes. Then, “Star” flows in as its silvery, night-time counterpart featuring Dan McCafferty at his most reflective but sounding dangerously close to the Rod Stewart-fronted THIN LIZZY, whereas “What’s In It For Me” employs too much Americana sliding to be as fiery as it tries to be. Still, the title track drives it all to a pounding finale to show that NAZARETH, for all the irony of Rodney Matthews cover, the sitar inflections on the Celtic march and the band’s secret laughter, really mean it.
Expect No Mercy
A&M 1977 /
Going for the jugular, NAZ cut their own throat to cut the more delicious slice. Two versions of the same album reveal all the scope of the band’s thinking.
It remains a mystery, the original title of the Scots’ ninth LP, as the record they delivered to their label didn’t have the blistering sabre-dance that is “Expect No Mercy” on it. It was a totally different product even though it shared half of the tracks with the finished variant, the souped-up one which A&M hoped would send the quartet back up the charts. Not that the original songs were bad as this reissue, revealing the first version for the first time, proves – the crystal ballad “Moonlight Eyes” was to be revived three years later for “The Fool Circle”, and the omission of the rousing “Life Of A Dog”, a worthy follow-up to another canine gem from the NAZ canon, feels sinful – but ultimately, the suits were right: the platter didn’t pack much punch.
So Manny Charlton as a producer, and a principal writer this time, grafted some weight to what was to remain on the cards without compromising the band’s country leanings. Yet the bluegrass picking had to get impressively metallized in the “New York Broken Toy” bustle and go down the drain from CRAZY HORSE’s “Gone Dead Train”, but the speeding up of and adding volume and bass swing to the soulful “Shot Me Down” only sharpened its glossy drama. More so, the honing of the delirious, guitar-as-brass, “Kentucky Fried Blues” allowed the foursome to build a new song, the funky charmer “Gimme What’s Mine”, around its memorable riff, whereas stripping “Revenge Is Sweet” of its initial embellishments made the groover too streamlined to be etchy. When it comes to simple things, still, there’s nothing better on the album than the acoustic romp through “Place In Your Heart” and the Ray Charles-indebted, C&W-tinctured reading of “Busted”.
The singer’s love for black music infused the epic folk drift of “All The King’s Horses” with gospel sway while his compadres attached the tasty drone to the album closer’s rich tapestry, giving it the loch-sized depth and making it a great augmentation to the record which justifies the sending of some other tracks to the cutting floor. There’s nothing special about the bluesy “Desolation Road”, “Can’t Keep A Good Man Down” bubbles like a nice idea to be elaborated on, and “Green” is too insipid a rocker for NAZ anyway but it boasts a great Scottish bit amidst all the riffing. There were no mercy towards those, and quite rightly so: the real diamond emerges when it’s faceted, and this reissue is the best example of it.
Close Enough For Rock ‘n’ Roll /
Play ‘n’ The Game
A&M 1976 /
The time for some more shuffle and even more reshuffling of the cards to come up trumps.
1976 was hard for NAZARETH: their manager died in a plane crash and the band got on a two-albums-per-year treadmill again, but what’s more important, the only way after the height which was “Hair Of The Dog” was down. All this could be wearing and tearing for the band, yet with the first album of that year, they turned the troubles into success, to let themselves shamble a bit on the second one. Still, laying down both LPs in Canada, where NAZ had a healthy fambase, seemed to have been the only concession to the unrelenting schedule the quartet lived by.
The group’s modus operandi is the main concept of “Close Enough For Rock ‘n’ Roll” which presents a bold structure, not unlike its contemporary “Hotel California”, beginning with one of their greatest compositions, with the rest, as fine as it is, paling in the hit’s shadow. The four-part “Telegram” comes into focus little by little, with the anxious guitar riff joined by piano tinkling, and seriously, to relay the touring travails, the repeating vocal figures punctured with the bass and drums careful throb, before the echo of “This Flight Tonight” kicks the picture into its groovy fullest. But then, the Scots’ humor rears its head with the quote from THE BYRDS’ “So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” the irony of which paves the road for Manny Charlton to employ his guitar orchestra – and for the band to get back to their glorious business with a touch of glam in the number’s finale. Yet there’s much more to this business, so the sadness hides in the swagger the raunchy knees-up of “Vancouver Shakedown” and blooms in the “Homesick Again” anthemic country harmonies wheeled in on the almost baroque folk instrumental “Vicky”. Quite a way to shape your slick desperation!
And if the hardening of Jeff Barry’s “You’re The Violin” might be a slight misstep in that direction, “Loretta” revolves around the old boogie pole, and elsewhere NAZ introduce even more ways to spill their concoction. The band go for the unexpected radio-friendly reggae in “Carry Out Feelings” and shake their Pete Agnew-propelled funk with “Born Under The Wrong Sign” – it’s more Philly glitter than Chicago grit this time but the band’s gusto feels good. The same glisten colors the heavy, organ-oiled march of “Lift The Lid” which paves the road for the next album.
“Play ‘n’ The Game” explores the now-famiilar templates in the jittery jive of “Waiting For The Man” and the sleek, if racy, “Born To Love” but mostly raves it up down the straight ‘n’ narrow, opening with the metallic “Somebody To Roll”, dirty and threatening but rather hollow: the fatigue, absent from “Telegram”, sets in, but is executed nicely in the blues of “I Want To Do Everything For You” and the maudlin “I Don’t Want To Go On Without You”, two of four covers on offer. The best of these is the country-tinged “Down Home Girl” which, with its handclaps and slide guitar runs, dissolves the tiredness in the Dan McCafferty-led merry bravado, whereas the NAZ original “Flying” softens the theme – and rhythm – of the similarly titled Joni Mitchell’s classic and effectively becomes its continuation. THE BEACH BOYS’ “Wild Honey” sounds too strained for its jolly faux-bluegrass money, though, so the rocking swirl of “L.A. Girls” feels most welcome to draw the curtain, and the bonus B-side “Good Love” is as sharp and posh as it gets for the Dunfermline warriors.
****2/3 / ***1/4
Hair Of The Dog
A&M 1975 /
The prickly peak of the Scottish forceful four, the fate-sealing masterpiece. Homeopathic it ain’t.
The Cerberus-like beast on the cover might symbolize the bite that lies within but the devil’s in the detail, and the heinous creature distracts the eye from other significant element of the artwork, namely heather. This, the most Scottish of all plants, is what the titular dog seems to be guarding and this is what entwines the fantastic, YES-esque corals on the backside – an antidote to the progressive elements of “Rampant”, perhaps? But then, there’s a small matter of giving the fans what they want, what with them seeing the band as a genuine hard rock piece, which NAZ have never been: hence the “cure like with like” homeopathy principle in the heart of the “hair of the dog” expression, even though the band meant “heir” for the album title to mean “Son Of A Bitch”. It’s that humorously spiky!
…and heavy, too. The quartet were always ready to admit their influences, so the stop-and-go sway of “Changing Times” is a tongue-in-cheek playing the LED ZEP game with a Scottish tune emerging out of it, while the opener “Hair Of The Dog” heavily mangles the “Ticket To Ride” riff for the next decade, Yet there’s a catchy zip in the compositions and the delivery to blow any purist off their feet and pull them into the witches’ brew that this record is. Everything about it is exemplary: Darrel Sweet’s imaginative percussion which starts the proceedings, the memorable lyrics spliced with Dan McCafferty’s all-encompassing warble, Pete Agnew’s bottom-end depth, the clever mix observed by Manny Charlton – just notice how his spacey guitar flight goes underneath the strum on the single “Love Hurts”, the ensemble’s biggest hit. In truly Highlanders’ way, the space between the notes is as important as the notes themselves here; thus, the tension builds on and on from the title track’s chopped phrases and the vocoder solo, performed live with a bagpipe, to the bewitching, slow vortex of “Please Don’t Judas Me” where the base raga drone insensibly transmutes into the clear Celtic sound and soars skywards.
It fills also “Rose In The Heather”, an airy instrumental tagged to the marching take on the CRAZY HORSE’s “Beggar’s Day” that NAZARETH, as usual, make their own. Fathom such a drift with the country-cum-gospel, Uncle Ray-styled reading of Randy Newman’s “Guilty” that offsets the overall weight most compelling on the “Miss Misery” killer threat, an adorable Jack The Ripper of a song with the irresistible chorus and a slide slyness which hastens its pace and feeds, later on, into the charmingly bopping blues “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman”, and you have the essence of the Dunfermline squad. Now, the erstwhile American excursion, its vestiges evident on single cuts “Railroad Boy” and “Holy Roller”, is brought down to the glen alongside the English psych of TOMORROW’s “My White Bicycle”, turned by NAZ into another chart-biter. With a handful of live BBC recordings to round it all off, this is the reissue to grace even the most demanding collection.
A&M 1974 /
Diversity as an undoing? The fury dissipates in color and the end of the rainbow fades away.
Scoring hat-trick is a tricky feat, especally when the concert road doesn’t seem to end, so “Rampant” might add some anger to the recycling of its predecessor‘s title yet fails to reproduce the moulden whole of “Loud ‘n’ Proud”. For NAZARETH the problem lies in the perception, though: the fans have always regarded the band as purveyors of hard rock while the Scots’ horizons are much wider than that. That’s why their fifth LP tries to lay the heavy blueprint onto the stylistic scale of “Exercises” with quite a mixed result.
It tends to be almost appalling in the finale, the prog rock cocoon pulled over the pairing of THE YARDBIRDS’ “Shape Of Things” with the impressive HAWKWIND-like instrumental “Space Safari”; still, in the slightly humorus “Jet Lag” the rifferama pulls the touring drift down to bluesy earth and introduces the vocoder, thus sowing seeds for both “Telegram” and “Hair Of The Dog”. More so, the album launches as usual, with a streamline, if sharp, rock ‘n’ roll of “Silver Dollar Forger” the guitar of which comes cosmic, too, in the second part of the track, but in the first half its strum sets the tone for some rockabilly fare to follow. The album rooted in Americana, “Sunshine” bares the foursome’s soft underbelly, and there’s a tremulous, echo-drenched loneliness in “Loved And Lost” where the quartet take away their iron mask to look up beyond the atmosphere again. NAZ’s record can’t exist without some reckless blues re-imagined for a good laugh, though, so in “Glad When You’re Gone” the brick-laying verses with their tight vocal harmonies see the countrified release on the cheerful choruses.
The mood rockets even higher when “Shanghai’d In Shanghai” cuts the rug and welcomes Jon Lord’s piano boogie, the slider and the “Satisfaction” quote in its sweaty, Southern rock hug, embracing also a rare B-side “Down” – a bonus here, alongside the BBC recordings – whereas in the sluggish “Light My Way” the effects feel jarring. So much for the experimentation, more interesting than pleasant. This way the band delivered their “Revolver”, tasty but strange, and accumulated force for the next punch.
Loud ‘n’ Proud
A&M 1973 /
The title says it all – and rather humbly so. The bird of paradise spreads its wings, or its tail for that matter.
With “Razamanaz” slinging the Dunfermline’s finest up where they belonged, there really wasn’t time, and sense, to slow down. Tour wheels set in perpetual motion, creative juices were in constant flow, too, so the quartet’s fourth album crystallized their ideas even more solidly to render “Loud ‘n’ Proud” not simply a follow-up but a sequel to their previous LP. Again it starts with a smash, “Go Down Fighting”, to blow off any barrier there could be, yet this time the chugging riff is oiled with Manny Charlton’s slide and sags acoustically in fine style on the verses to let Dan McCafferty deliver his silvery rap for adrenalin to kick in measured doses, as it does in another intent-clearing number, the wah-wah-awashed “Freewheeler” that harks back to the ’60s rhythm-and-blues while adding a nice weight to its meandering trajectory and taking it spaceward guitar-wise.
After that, the energy level never lets down, the tension growing even more on less speedy numbers such as the closer, the drone-filled, heavy metal take on Dylan’s grim “The Ballad Of Hollis Brown”, and one of the NAZ’s most glorious covers, Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight” that the Scots make their own by hanging the farewell sadness on Pete Agnew’s unrelenting bass that holds the rest – scorching vocals, outlandish six-string web, catchy percussion – together. And then there’s some good-time rockers like a bare-bone appropriation of LITTLE FEAT’s “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” and the group’s own contagious “Turn On Your Receiver”, where, thanks to Darrel Sweet’s tom tom’s thunder, the middle eight elevates the radio-friendly groove to a Zen height, even more breathtaking in a live BBC version among the bonus cuts.
Somewhat deeper feels “Not Faking It” with which the foursome merrily elbow their producer Roger Glover’s main act, DEEP PURPLE, and show their infectious humor by heaping themselves in with both the famous and infamous, thus creating a mythology of their own. The only chance to breathe in on the album comes in the shape of “Child In The Sun”, the West Coast-kissed ballad that grows in the harmonic scope as it progresses to an anthemic a cappella climax. Once the ripples calm down, there’s no doubt left as to why the volume is linked to the majestic in the title.
Mooncrest 1973 /
“Let’s make it now cause this could be never”: the sabre dance begins in earnest.
The seeds of “Razamanaz” were sown in NAZARETH’s self-titled debut, and the band perhaps needed to loose the reins a bit on “Exercises” to dash on the unprepared listener with what many consider their finest creation. “Razamanazin’ you never expected”? The lightning on the cover is but a slight indication of thunder that lives inside, and there’s hardly enough room to breeze once the title track’s riff cuts the slack of silence: the sparseness of Manny Charlton’s guitar lines and Darrel Sweet’s intense beat comes filled with Dan McCafferty’s all-encompassing vocal hook and clear statement of intent – “We won’t allow you a second to slow down / The moment has come to deliver” – until Pete Agnew’s propeller-like bass gets into the rumble for a swirling rock ‘n’ roll chorus which makes it impossible to sit still. Yet don’t get fooled by the “we haven’t come to be clever” part, as the quarter and their producer Roger Glover put a lot of thought in the record, and the testament to the group’s eventual decidedness would be a new cut of the previous LP’s “Woke Up This Morning”.
But if it wasn’t enough for the bluesy pseudo-fatalism – shaped really tragic in the anthemic “Sold My Soul” with guitar orchestra emulating the string ensemble – more of this is served in another slide guitar-awashed number, a take on Pete Seeger’s “Vigilante Man”, including the gallow pole march, and the band’s own creepy, multi-layered “Alcatraz”. As criminal as it gets, the closer, “Broken Down Angel”, sees the foursome wear the collective bleeding heart on their sleeve and put a little Scottish wail in-between the tight voice pack. All this is heavy and insistent, with a well-hidden grin that expands into a broad smile for the rhythm section-driven, low end-boasting chop of “Night Woman” and its tie-in hooligan boogie stomp “Bad Bad Boy”. Masters of twist in every tale, NAZ allow themselves to go twisting recklessly in “Too Bad, Too Sad”, but that’s exactly the kind of badness all of us need to contrast the existence the group paint in a B-side song “Hard Living”, one of bonus tracks here, four of these the BBC renditions of the album’s numbers.
Nazareth / Exercises
Pegasus 1971 / 1972 /
Not quite a humble start, but expect some mercy before the assault.
Family men with day jobs… Could these four guys from Dunfermline offer their listeners enough energy to bounce off it and fly high? The first cut on the band’s self-titled album left no doubts: no introduction as such, in “Witchdoctor Woman” Dan McCafferty’s sharp voice slices the heavy beat of Darrel Sweet’s drums while Manny Charlton’s guitar rages on – here in unison with vocals, there waywardly – bobbing on the funky grit of Pete Agnew’s bass. Thus, the course was chartered for the Scottish ensemble to traverse in the following decades, even though for the most part there’s not much NAZ trademarks on their debut LP, yet the heavy psychedelic reading of Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew” paves – with the top session players BJ Cole and Pete Wingfield‘s help – the road to another American classic, “This Flight Tonight”, released on “Loud ‘n’ Proud” three years later. From today’s perspective, the idealism of “I Had A Dream”, led by Canterbury scenester Dave Stewart’s harmonium, may seem flabby, and “The King Is Dead” too maudlin a ballad, but the “Red Light Lady” riff is pure NAZARETH, orchestra notwithstanding, and for all its bluesy naivete “Nazareth” sounds imposing even now, showing the possibilities to be explored and exploited.
These tentative roads were tried on the group’s second album, the most appropriately titled “Exercises”, which its makers almost disowned later. Yet they had to squeeze it out of the NAZ system for the brilliant residue such as the infectious “Woke Up This Morning” to crystallize into genuine diamonds. And while it’s hard to see the band’s real heart in the baroque lushness of the opening “I Will Not Be Led”, which sets off the string quartet with a fuzz guitar, and even “1692 (Glen Coe Massacre)” with its bagpipes leans to the past rather than the future, the acoustic “Fool About You ” and “Cat’s Eye, Apple Pie” proudly and playfully wave the Scots’ love for country which would see them indulge in the genre many times in their prime. So with Highlands’ motifs lurking also in the heartbreaking “Madelaine”, it was over the Pond that NAZARETH set their looks and hooks to grab the worldwide love.
*** / **1/3
Rich on hits and poor on misses, the career-spanning overview of the Scottish rock kings’ lifeline.
Dunfermline being the ancient capital of Scotland, the city was bound to write itself into the modern music landscape of the country – even if thanks to the band named after a different town. But, four decades since their humble beginnings, NAZARETH still aren’t consigned to history, and it’s not the brewery spirit that keeps the ensemble’s spirits high, it’s their total dedication to the cause which produced their easily recognizable sound. If Frankie Miller’s voice could be mistaken for Rod Stewart’s and some hear no difference between Maggie Bell’s and Janis Joplin’s approach, Dan McCafferty‘s vocals stand out in the field of their own having influenced the likes of AC/DC who also got infected by NAZ’s way with riffs. There’s simply no escape from the “Ticket To Ride” mangled hook that the 1975’s masterpiece “Hair Of The Dog” hangs on, or the “Razamanaz” welcoming statement of intent – “We’ve got to get it together: you bring the wine, we’ll bring the weather” – which opens this 40th anniversary collection with a crystal-clear remastered bang.
By introducing jazz terminology and hinting on fusion in Manny Charlton’s clipped solo and Darrel Sweet’s drumming, “Razamanaz” sweeps off the notion of NAZ as a strictly hard rock band, and “1692 (Glen Coe Massacre)” – which puts forth the ensemble’s Scottishness much better than the bagpipe-cum-talk-box flaunting in “Hair Of The Dog” – could have made the point clearer, yet there’s not a single track from the group’s first two albums on “The Anthology”, but the reggae of “Cocaine”, here in live take, shows the breadth of the Scots’ diversity. More so, in this J.J. Cale’s classic the acoustic fibre is evident as it is in the joyful “May The Sunshine” and “Broken Down Angel” that pour a good dose of country into the heady brew. As for the heavy assault, it’s served in spades – and always with some twist – in the speedy threat of “No Mean City” and the “Expect No Mercy” electric parade that see the original quartet’s brave stance in the punk era. But weren’t they sharing the same youth emotions before, in 1973’s “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” or “Go Down Fighting”, all pierced with Pete Agnew‘s rumbling bass and smoothed with vocal harmonies? More of those fill the gospel-tinged “Heart’s Grown Cold” from 1980, yet when it comes to singing the loneliness McCafferty greatly does it on his own – be it in the tremulous “Dream On” and the posh “Where Are You Now”, not marred even by the ’80s slick production, in 1989’s single “Winner Of The Night”, or in the band’s best ’70s ballad, the most famous reworking of “Love Hurts”.
Still, it’s not the best NAZARETH cover; this title goes to 1973’s “This Flight Tonight”, the rocking rocket that made its writer Joni Mitchell gasp with delight and brought out each player’s contribution to the magic formula for all to see. Obviously, its parent album was not for nothing called “Loud ‘n’ Proud”. But for all the killer choices, there’s an occasional murder and, in 1984, “Ruby Tuesday” died a death in the Scots’ hands, whereas the inclusion of THE BYRDS’ “So You Wanna Be a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star” into the 1976’s tremendously charged “Telegram”, which in four parts bemoans the glory of life on the road, was an inspired decision. The same subject is given a sarcastic denial six years later, in 1980’s “Holiday”, where that patented sound gets modernized and smoothed without losing its edge – quite a paradox! Towards the end of that decade NAZ set their course back to their roots, and though “Animals” is conspicuously absent here, an attack on “Piece Of My Heart” almost makes for it. After that, it rolled mighty, 1998’s “When The Lights Come Down” throwing the band to their heavy beginnings and “Goin’ Loco” from 2008 steaming-hot. Which means, after four decades, Dunfermline royal madness still blooms on.