Album review: NAZARETH – Coloured vinyl re-issues (October 2019)

NAZARETH - Coloured vinyl re-issues October 2019

‘Snaz (2LP, orange / green vinyl, gatefold, innersleeves), 2XS (turquoise vinyl LP), Sound Elixir (orange vinyl LP, inner sleeve), Cinema (white vinyl LP, inner sleeve), No Jive (clear vinyl LP + insert), Move Me (red vinyl LP)

BMG [Release date 11.10.19]

BMG continue with their Nazareth reissue campaign that started a year ago with that superb 32CD, 4LP, 3*7” + book boxset. Here, this third batch of coloured vinyl LPs that replicates the original packaging. A decent solid feel to the vinyl too. Proper job. A band formed in the late 60′s by Dan McCafferty (noted for his whiskey soaked gravelly vocals), guitarist Manny Charlton (a fine bluesy hard rock guitarist), Pete Agnew (bass) and Darrell Sweet (drums). Many a hit in the 70s (and some in the 80s too), the band are still going with only Agnew at the helm. Previous sets have been reviewed here, check them out.

The first album up is 1981’s ‘Snaz, arguably one of the finest LPs ever released. The band had just become a six piece, augmented by Glaswegian second guitarist Billy Rankin (who had previously played with Zal Cleminson in The Zal Band) and former Spirit pianist John Locke.

Original gatefold sleeve and inner sleeves, the album opens with the classic Telegram which the crowd love (and rightfully so). ‘Razamanaz’ follows, one of the most blistering uptempo bluesy rockers you will ever hear. The song works well as a six piece, a fuller (in some cases more rounded) sound. Singer Dan McCafferty’s vocals are as gravelly as ever. ‘I Want To Do Everything For You’ is a pace down, a bluesier song, then there’s the fantastic cover of Joni Mitchel’s ‘This Flight Tonight’.

What was great about a Nazareth show back in those days was that you got more than what was on record. Partly due to the expanded line-up, the arrangements are different and there’s a couple of tracks that they never put on record.

Check out the cover of ‘Cocaine’ and also ‘Java Blues’ – one of the best Naz covers you’ll ever hear. And ZZ Top’s ‘Tush’ – a real blast. There’s also the obligatory ‘Love Hurts’ – proof that it was Dan McCafferty’s masterpiece moment (and it should have been dropped when McCafferty retired). Sadly nothing from ‘No Mean City’ but a great set of tracks throughout.

The double LP closes with two new studio tracks – a reworking of ‘Morning Dew’ (a track they covered in their early days), and ‘Juicy Lucy’ (also issued as a single b-side).

Listen, learn and love. It’s only more recently that the existence of the complete show exists, would love to hear that. But this live album as it currently stands is already essential listening.

First and only studio album recorded by the six piece line-up was ’2XS’ which is really underrated. Nazareth embraced the 80s so it’s a bit more AOR and less blues. Opener (and single) ‘Love Leads To Madness’ is radio friendly, features some great guitar work. Highlight, though, as to be ‘Boys In The Band’.

This is a real cracker and did for Nazareth in the 80′s what Razamanaz did in the 70′s. Blistering, 80s rock’n’roll, Dan’s on form, John’s piano fits right in. A bit of crash bang wallop and all the better for it. There’s some filler, some radio play tracks, and more very hard rock (tracks like ‘Back To The Trenches’ stands out). Thick black inner sleeve, shame the original lyric inner isn’t replicated.

The ballad ‘Dream On’ is a great track, written by Rankin a couple of years before but credited to the whole band – things like that have grated with band members on several occasions.

With Locke returning to California, 1983’s ‘Sound Elixir’ saw Nazareth down to a five piece. The album wasn’t originally released in the UK, and the 1985 reissue withdrawn. It is a good album, but often overlooked.

Quite mainstream in places, radio friendly, sadly too easy to overlook. The guitar work in ‘Whippin’ Boy’ is excellent, and a nice bit of boogie (and classic Dan’s gravel vocals) in ‘Local Still’. Full lyric inner sleeve, too.

With Billy forced out by politics and management double dealing, the band were back to their original 4 piece for 1984’s ‘The Catch’.

Next here is 1986’s’ Cinema’. And by then Nazareth were a different beast. The song writing was still up there, some great songs do pepper this song. But the sound was much more modern. Take the title track, very modern and polished while retaining a harsh edge.

Again the album wasn’t issued in the UK (nor in many other parts of the world outside of Europe). I would still recommend this album to anyway. It may have missed the zeitgeist and the fans by a mile or two at the time, but in hindsight there’s lots to appreciate. You can see why Manny Charlton has covered some of these songs during his solo career.

Skip to the 90s and a new line-up, with Billy Rankin returning and Manny Charlton having left (contrary to the band’s current official line). And a rejuvenation of sorts. While ‘No Jive’ (1991) and ‘Move Me’ (1994) can almost be Rankin solo albums with his songwriting input, there are some fantastic songs here.

‘No Jiv’e opens with the hard ‘Hire And Fire’, and ‘Right Between The Eyes’ hits you right there. There is the customary ballad or two, blistering guitar work, amazing hard rock rhythms, Dan’s vocals punch. It’s what you need. Nice replica of the original insert, a great feel.

The original release was on the Belgium Mausoleum label whose UK office I worked with in promoting the album, as this was when I just started running the band’s fanclub.

‘Move Me’, originally released in Germany on Polydor, had UK distribution nearly as limited as the PR at the time, so another release I helped the band with. Like it’s predecessor, in the face of then current musical trends, was a breath of fresh air.

The polished power of the title track, the guitar work and rhythm on ‘Steamroller’, there’s some polished hard rock and a bit of rock’n’roll too. Definitely one of Nazareth’s most underrated.

Sadly Billy left soon after this album (and for some of the same reasons Manny quit the band); a shame, but that’s history. Take these two albums with as much pleasure as the rest of the catalogue and no mistake. A lovely feel to these albums. And all worth a listen.

Like many classic rock bands, the albums that fans recommend gets rather predictable, overlooking the work of albums like these. An essential part of the collection. The sound as good as they look. And feel. ****1/2

Review by Joe Geesin

Album review (reissues, July 2019)

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