304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful and varied album of quality rock performed by first-class musicians. No, it isn’t Nazareth from the Hair of the Dog era; it is Nazareth for now and for the future and deserves to be heard.
As an innocent boy of 14, I remember with startling clarity the night of February 27th, 1973: I was off to my first ever concert. The venue was Newcastle City Hall to see my heroes, Deep Purple perform. Into the venue, and finally seated, the anticipation when the lights went down was so intense for one so young…and this was just for the support band who I had never heard of.
That support band was Nazareth and without introductions, they burst into Razamanaz; it was a revelation; a hard rocking number, which made everyone there take notice. They were so good, the audience wanted an encore and surprisingly, Purple let them. My heroes appeared shortly after and went through a superb set, but that’s a story for another day. All this for just £1, yes, £1! So that is how I ‘discovered’ Nazareth and it was the beginning of loyalty that exists today, over 40 years and twenty-five studio albums later.
The band formed in Dunfermline in the mid-60s and were essentially a covers band until, after hearing the Dead lyrics “I pulled into Nazareth” inspired a name change, a concerted effort to write what they wanted to play and tours outside of bonny Scotland. The extensive gig schedule brought them to the attention of Pegasus Records, who released the bands eponymous, debut album in late 1971.
This was a solid record, which showed huge promise with songs such as Morning Dew and Witchdoctor Woman. The following year’s Exercises album, produced by Roy Thomas Baker, saw the band taking on a very different approach with a very soft rock sound. They knew they had to do something different, to avoid obscurity, and began to write heavier songs more suited to their preferred styles of playing and McCafferty’s gravel-in-a-cement-mixer vocals.
This resulted in Razamanaz and, aided by producer Roger Glover, they achieved what they set out to do and released a truly classic rock record. Success came via hit singles and relentless touring until they seemed to lose their way a little. Then Manny Charlton left and they soldiered on in the face of a declining appetite for rock affected them and many other bands. The sad death of drummer Darryl Sweet also affected them all. They kept on rolling and just as the quality of their studio output began an upward climb, original frontman Dan McCafferty had to retire for health reasons. That left Pete Agnew as the only original member, although guitarist Jimmy Murrison has served long enough to earn his rightful place, as has Lee (son of Pete) Agnew who’s played drums since Darryl’s passing.
Showing strength and purpose, they girded their loins, metaphorically, and after a false start recruited Carl Sentance to replace Dan; Carl has a pedigree of his own with bands like Persian Risk as well as helping out on stage with the late great Jon Lord and his Purple replacement, the excellent Don Airey.
The first album with this lineup released the excellent Tattooed On My Brain and now have the follow-up, Surviving the Law, on release. It has a generous fourteen tracks and, although (bar one) they don’t break the four-minute mark, they all bring a fresh, heavy and considered take on 70s rock with a little blues and ‘classic;’ Nazareth sprinkled throughout. All of them find each member on top form: Sentence is a powerhouse and melodic, Pete is supreme on bass and is actually audible thanks to some quality production, Jimmy manages to bring heft and dexterity to weighty riffs and short but good solos and Lee is rock solid on drums behind them all and, a rarity these days, knows when and how to use cymbals.
Of the fourteen, the standouts for me are the mid-paced heavy, bluesy You Gotta Pass It Around with the “do, do, do, do, do” already firmly entrenched…the bass is superb and a tasty solo too. Runaway is faster and hearkens slightly back to Bad, Bad, Boy and that is a good thing… a great solo from Jimmy and this would have charted back in those heady days when rock graced the charts. I cannot resist songs with subject matter that resonates and so Let The Whiskey Flow with its bluesy, catchy riff, the pauses for the vocals and the percussion add up to irresistible; Ciggies And Booze hits home too and the drum and bass intro is a lovely, heavy introduction to a quality blues-based riff and a great Carl vocal. Psycho Skies is a clever composition that adds heavy, melodic rock with a sort of eastern flavour to the neat guitar work…and may hit home too!
Sweet Kiss is catchy, hefty and sort of Thundery as is Mind Bomb as the band expand on some of the early Naz influences but brings it bang up to date…listen to the bass on this one…lovely. The last track, You Made Me, is the longest song at over five minutes and changes the feel of what went before…slower and Hammond drenched with a subtle vocal which I think is Pete as he occasionally uses his lower register on songs that need it (try I Had A Dream off their debut if you doubt it) that evokes 50s electric blues but very much in the now…a brilliant closer even if we have to make do without a guitar or Hammond solo.
I know Nazareth fans will be saying things like: “not as good as Hair of the Dog/Razamanaz/Close Enough…”…and I will agree up to a point: this lineup is making excellent rock that is all too rare these days and comparisons are redundant. This is Nazareth for 2022 and it is very good indeed.
Fill Me Up
You Gotta Pass It Around
Better Leave It Out
Falling In Love
Waiting For The World To End
Let The Whiskey Flow
Ciggies And Booze
You Made Me
Carl Sentance: vocals
Jimmy Murrison: guitar
Pete Agnew: bass
Lee Agnew: drums
(As I have every Nazareth album ever released, iTunes played more of this great band…so I gave it a nudge and next in line was the guitar skills of Neal Schon on his Piranha Blues with the rather nice Whiskey, Women and Blues.)