NAZARETH — Nazareth (review)

NAZARETH — Nazareth album cover Album · 1971 · Hard Rock Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Forget that this band became one of the lead hard rock acts of the 1970's. Forget hits like Razamanaz, Turn on Your Receiver, Hair of the Dog, and Love Hurts. Instead, think back to 1971 when guitar-driven hard rock was being churned out of the record company mills in copious quantities of which few bands would survive after their debut if it ever even got released. Jerusalem, Necromandus, T.2., Stray, and dozens of others hit the record store shelves (or almost did), and Nazareth were at the time, just another band to release a debut.

According to the notes in the CD reissue (coupled with "Exercises"), the band were not all that interested in releasing an album but decided to make the trip from Scotland to London and see what would come out of it. The opening track, "Witchdoctor Woman", is very typical of the music of the day. It's a simple heavy rocker doing everything you'd expect from a British proto-metal band that leaned more towards hard rock than heavy metal. Throw it on a compilation of other early 70's bands like Sir Lord Baltimore, Sainte Anthony's Fyre, and Dust and it blends right in.

Next up is the piano rocker, "Dear John". The record company had so much faith that this song would be a hit that they released it three times as a single. It never did make the big smash though. More interesting in my books is the next tune, "Empty Arms, Empty Heart". This almost goes into heavy prog territory with some nice tempo and rhythm changes while returning to the heavy guitar rock sound.

"I Had a Dream" is a typical slow song of the day, but "Red Light Lady Parts 1 & 2" show the band exercising more interesting creativity. Part 1 is a suspense-mood setting number with the band in building-to-a-climax rock mode. Part 2 brings in a whole orchestra for a very dramatic conclusion to the song.

Side 2 opens with the humorous heavy blues rocker, "Fat Man", and vocalist Dan McCafferty singing in an affected deep rough-edged voice, presumably to create the image of a fat man, perhaps akin to Fat Albert in a white, Scottish kind of way. We are next treated to a country ballad called, "Country Girl" with some pretty soloing courtesy of Manny Charlton. Unfortunately, I feel McCafferty sounds rather weak in his attempt to sing a sad ode to some chick from the boondocks.

Things get interesting again, however, with the band's take on "Morning Dew", an anti-war song cover. Bassist Pete Agnew keeps his fingers moving steadily throughout the whole song, which is built over a galloping bass line. The song is eerie and haunting at times, and rocks out nice and heavy once it gets into the thick of the intensity. Along with "Witchdoctor Woman" and "Empty Arms, Empty Heart" we are looking at a fine example of early 70's heavy guitar rock.

The album concludes with the orchestra-backed "King is Dead". Once again we have very dramatic music here and I am wondering how this band managed to get an orchestra on at least two of the tracks on their debut. If you have the two-albums-on-one-disc reissue that I have, then it's interesting to hear the first song off "Exercises" follow this because "I Will Not Be Led" also features a string orchestra. Perhaps "King is Dead" might have been a good song for Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow to rework. I can imagine Ronnie James Dio singing this one.

I was a huge Nazareth fan in junior high, which was around the time, "Cinema" was released. Though I had my favourite albums, I always liked at least half of this album here. It is primitive Nazareth just getting a feel for stretching their skills in song writing and studio recording. The next album would be a real puzzler and odd-one-out in the Nazareth catalogue. But for an early 70's proto-metal album, this one holds up alright in places.
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