Now here's a band with some serious pedigree, and history. This, their 23rd studio album, is a return to form after more two lacklustre (by Naz standards) outings, and could sadly well mark the end of an era.
Formed in the late 60s out of the ashes of ballroom covers band The Shadettes, with the addition of Mark V guitarist Manuel 'Manny' Charlton, who added quite a bluesy edge, Nazareth soon became hard touring regulars around the world. Across a number of labels in the 70s the band had several hits, including 'Bad Bad Boy' and 'Broken Down Angel'; it was, however, covers of 'Love Hurts' (The Everly Brothers), 'This Flight Tonight' (Joni Mitchel) and 'My White Bicycle' (Tomorrow) that gave the band global success, their versions of the first two widely considered definitive.
Others came and went, including Billy Rankin, SAHB guitarist Zal Cleminson and Spirit pianist John Locke, before Manny left the band at the end of the 80s.
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The current line up (on the CD) include founder members Dan McCafferty (vocals) and Pete Agnew (bass) – although Dan has recently announced his retirement due to ill health – with guitarist Jimmy Murrison (who debuted on 1998s wonderful 'Boogaloo') and Lee Agnew (Pete's son, who took the drum stool after Darrell Sweet's passing shortly after the release of 'Boogaloo').
Now onto 'Rock 'n' Roll' Telephone, sadly McCafferty's swansong – which opens with the excellent 'Boom Bang Bang'. Some excellent guitar work and a good riff (although on its own, before the band come in, an intro that took me a few listens to get used to) – and McCafferty's vocals as gravelly as ever.
There's a touch of funk to the guitar and bass and the drums pound heavily (not too sure on the drum sound at times). Next up is 'One Set Of Bones', which sees Agnew Jnr fitting into Sweet's shoes well. A couple of chords are reminiscent of 1981s 'Crazy', and other riffs have a moody feel. Then there's the chorus that see's Dan reach a higher range than normal – well worth a listen.
'Back 2B4' is a change of pace and feel – much more melodic with an almost acoustic feel, it's hark back to 'Malice In Wonderland'/'Fool Circle'. Again Dan on form here, and Pete's bass sounds spot on too.
'Winter Sunlight' is a slower atmospheric number, and the title track is heavy with big production, a solid more metallic number and some trademark fuzz on the bass. 'Punch A Hole The Sky' is a real uptempo rocker, this a nod to some seriously classic Naz albeit at the heavy end.
Photo credit: Mark Bryce
The overall feel is hard rock verging on Metal – not as bluesy as early material, but definitely so far so good. Then we hit 'Long Long Time', with effects and programming in the intro and in the rhythms. It's a not a bad track by any means, by a long way, but it does sound out of place on a Nazareth album, it's more the kind of thing you'd find on a solo album. 'The Right Time', a softer almost balladic track, is again not the strongest. But things turn around with 'Not Today', a slower heavy number with a moody riff.
'Speakeasy' is more exciting, and the album's closer, 'God Of The Mountain', is the highlight of the whole album. This track was issued late last year as a signature track of the Austrian winter Olympics team (that CD single is now quite a rarity). This is uptempo, thunderous, catchy, blistering (fuck me, check out that guitar solo), everything a good Nazareth album should start and finish with.
It would be totally unfair to say the last couple of outings lacked soul, but there's a rejuvenation, a spark, much more feeling here.
The sad news is that Dan is no longer touring with the band; I spoke with him soon after the announcement and he sounded good, and realistic about looking after himself. I'm looking forward to hearing tracks from this album live with the band's new vocalist Linton Osborne.
Look out for a 2LP edition of this set, and a 2CD with extra tracks.