Saturday, March 2, 2019

CD Odyssey Disc 1235: Nazareth

I had a very busy week at work and was feeling pretty worn down by the end of each day. Fortunately, from Wednesday on I had this next record keeping me company on my commute, serving as the musical equivalent of comfort food.

Disc 1235 is… Loud ‘N’ Proud
Artist: Nazareth

Year of Release: 1973

What’s up with the Cover? One of rock and roll’s iconic album covers. Usually I follow that old superstition about peacock feathers in the house being bad luck, but for a record this good, I make an exception.

How I Came To Know It: This is the third record I ever bought. I was six or seven years old at the time and my entire music collection consisted of KISS’ “Destroyer” and Nazareth’s 1975 Greatest Hits album. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, but I knew I liked two of the songs on “Loud ‘N’ Proud” because they were on the Greatest Hits record I already had, and the album cover was awesome.

I also distinctly remember wanting both this record and “Razamanaz” and only having enough money for one of them. The peacock in me won out – it wouldn’t be the last time.

How It Stacks Up:  I have four Nazareth albums and this is the best of them. Perfection!

Ratings:  5 stars

Nazareth released two classic albums in 1973, this one and “Razamanaz.” Whereas “Razamanaz” is a masterful walk along the line between blues and hard rock, “Loud ‘N’ Proud” is exactly that – 100% balls to the wall pure rock and roll with no apologies. From the opening high hat of “Go Down Fighting” to the last doom-laden reverberation of “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” this album is a visceral blast of rock music with hints of punk and metal before either thing ever existed.

Nazareth as a band are strong throughout the lineup. Singer Dan McCafferty bringing a classic seventies rock vocal performance to every song. His voice is high and powerful with a controlled snarl. When he growls “starbright, starbright – you’ve got the lovin’ that I like” on “This Flight Tonight” his phrasing draws you inexorably into the groove Nazareth has infused into Joni Mitchell’s song, making it their own. He also makes you feel the hurt of separation and regretted decisions in every syllable.

McCafferty’s magnetism is borne out of a complete lack of artifice. On “Not Faking It” he sings:

“Tricky dicky was a fast talker
But his promises were always a lie
Nostradamus was a doomwatcher
Predicted when we're gonna die
Cleopatra was a love giver
Jesse James was a born killer
Me, I'm just a rock 'n' roll singer.”

This may read like a bit of a ramble on the sterile page but infused with McCafferty’s performance it sounds exactly like what it is: the truth.

However, it isn’t just about McCafferty. Lead guitarist Manny Charlton also provides some of his best performances on “Loud ‘N’ Proud”. On “Teenage Nervous Breakdown” he rides the front of the beat like a demon, turning a boogie woogie Little Feat song into a proto-punk blast of rebellion.

Charlton is a master of rhythm and when he’s great at creating energy by jumping the beat, on songs like “Child in the Sun” he’s equally solid sitting solemn in the pocket providing a gentle, soulful wail. His solo on “Freewheeler” is thick and rich and takes its time to develop naturally out of the melody. Fast in places, but not relying on speed, it draws you in and makes your spine tingle with delight.

Speaking of “Child in the Sun” this a song that I have been singing to myself for over 40 years. It doesn’t matter if I’ve just heard it or I haven’t heard it in months, it is always there in my mind, ready to calm me like a Buddhist mantra.

“Loud ‘N’ Proud” only has eight songs and three of them are covers. These covers are classic, iconic songs that Nazareth converts into something totally different and superior to the original.

I’ve already discussed two, but the third and last one may be the best. On “Ballad of Hollis Brown” they take a five minute Dylan folk song and turn it into a nine minute dirge that is the harbinger of modern grunge and doom metal wrapped into one. Charlton’s thick oppressive reverb guitar and the rolling thud of Darrell Sweet on drums add another layer of visceral desperation to Dylan’s tragic tale of starvation. A song so soul-crushing the only surcease for the hapless family trapped within it becomes a mass murder suicide.

I still have my original vinyl copy of this record, but this review is of the CD remaster. It sounds great, but I was disappointed that they felt the need to add four bonus tracks, all of them live sessions on BBC from the original year of release. These tracks show how great Nazareth were live in the day, and the inclusion of “Razamanaz” means if you only buy this album you’ll get that song as a bonus. Despite this, I wish this stuff weren’t here. “Loud ‘N’ Proud” is perfect in its original form, and the bonus tracks mar this perfection with their excess and repetition.

Back to the original record, which is a master class in how rock and roll should be played – with vigour and controlled aggression. I’ve heard “Loud ‘N’ Proud” hundreds of times – maybe- over the four decades it has been in my life. I gave it another seven or eight listens in a row this week and never once got tired of a single song. This is must-have rock and roll.

Best tracks: All of them, although I am particularly partial to Go Down Fighting, Not Faking It, This Flight Tonight, Freewheeler, Child in the Sun and the Ballad of Hollis Brown. The other three are also good.

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