Nazareth : Big Dogz
by Erik Tweedy
Back in 1968, vocalist Dan McCafferty and a truckload of Scottish blokes descended upon the musical world in the form of Nazareth, named after the steel town of Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Their mission was to deliver the best and most kick ass blues rock band in the world. After several semi-successful attempts at glory, the band struck gold in 1975 with the release that many would consider to be “the” best classic rock album of all time with Hair of the Dog. Ranking right up there with the best of Zeppelin, Queen, Black Sabbath, Pink Floyd and the Stones, Nazareth was riding the tsunami wave of hard rock blues in the mid-‘70s. Touring with every big name band on the planet, from KISS, Aerosmith, Skynyrd and Deep Purple, Nazareth enjoyed many successful years in the charts of their homeland and other parts of Europe.
Unfortunately for Nazareth, success in the U.S. was hard to come by and the lights dimmed quickly after their terrific Malice in Wonderland release in 1980 that featured the single “Holiday”, one of the most popular videos on MTV at the time. So, after 43 years in the music business, what has the band been up to? In short, they have released 22 kick ass rock and roll records. Many of today’s biggest bands give credit to writing partners Dan McCafferty and Manny Charlton and the rest of Nazareth as being one of their biggest music influences and vocal inspirations. Always a favorite son of Scotland and having a permanent home in the U.K record charts, Nazareth have found it hard to recreate the glory days in the U.S.. The magic that made up the Hair of the Dog days are long gone. Original guitarist and fundamental songwriter, Manny Charlton, has been replaced many times over and the position finally stabilized in 1994 when Jimmy Murrison jumped on board.
In 1999, founding member and original drummer Darrell Sweet passed away from a heart attack at the onset of the second leg of the Boogaloo tour in Albany, New York. With the blessing of Darrell’s wife, Lee Agnew, the son of founding member and bass player Pete Agnew, took over the kit and remains as the rock solid timekeeper and rhythm section along with his Pops, Pete Agnew. At the ripe old age of 65, McCafferty, on vocals, continues to churn out incredible whiskey soaked lyrics on every release.
Big Dogz marks the 22nd album that finds this band at the crossroads of “Old Age” and “Relevance.” Most listeners will not give this disc a second spin and maybe rightfully so. The title track, “Big Dogz”, with its heavy bluesy mix, seems to be stuck on the turntable for the first 30 seconds or so. After giving it a bump, this track drags along at a pace that might remind you of a newer AC/DC track, with Brian Johnson on vocals, pressed on a 45 single but played on a 33. It is very slow and clunky. Track # 2, “Claimed”, keeps to that same formula and after 2 tracks, the only thing keeping you awake are the vocals of McCafferty.
Track three, “No Mean Monster “finally turns the pace up to a rock level but falls flat with the weak lyrics and the failed attempt at UDO type lead vocals and marching men chanting. McCafferty still has the pipes but nobody needs to swim the English Channel to take on UDO, especially at age 65.
Nazareth has always been known to include a weird bluesy ballad or two on every release and Big Dogz is no different. “When Jesus Comes to Save the Word” is a ZZ Top inspired Tex-Mex blues piece that summons the ghost of Robert Johnson and very well could be the best track on this disc. A slow and trippy acoustic infused track that many will enjoy.
The more commercially enticed fans will enjoy “Radio”, a feel-good song about the good old days of radio when disc jockeys were our best friends. We all have our favorite songs from our childhood and this track will have you remembering back to your days of youth, friends long since passed and a carefree time. This is a great song for a mix tape for out on the deck this summer.
Quickly after “Radio” has faded, “Time and Tide” and “Lifeboat”, drop with a big thud. Producer, Yann Rouiller, missed on a great opportunity to bring this one home. “The Toast” should have followed “Radio” which would make this release much more enjoyable. Instead, the listener is forced to wade through the mud to get to the riches. “The Toast” and “Watch Your Back” are solid tracks reminiscent of the classic Nazareth sound that longtime fans will enjoy.
At the ripe young age of 65, Dan McCafferty deserves applause for the gutty vocal performance on “Butterfly”. A poignant and sorrowful track of a lost love that will have you closing your eyes; picturing a broken down man holding a cigarette in one hand and a whiskey bottle in the other. Dust off the chair and sit down with an old friend. This is a cool mellow track that will have you thinking back about a long lost love of your own.
Rounding out this old-school rocker is “Sleeptalker”. Harkening back to the days of yore, “Sleeptalker” would feel right at home on such Nazareth classics as Hair of the Dog, Razamanaz or Rampant. This is a very solid way to round out this fine release.
Gone are the days of such rocking classics like “Hair of the Dog”, “Holiday” and “Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman”, but this release deserves to be heard a second time. Sure, McCafferty no longer has the vocal range and the band has definitely tamed their rock and roll roots, but there is plenty here for the long-time NAZ fan. Filled with plenty of psychedelic infused blues rock, Nazareth continues to make great music.
Dan McCafferty – Vocals
Pete Agnew – Bass, backing vocals
Jimmy Murrison – Guitars
Lee Agnew – Drums
No Mean Monster
When Jesus Comes to Save the World Again
Time and Tide
Watch Your Back
Label: Edel Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.2/10