Album Review:

Nazareth: Big Dogz

 The Old Boys Still Have Plenty of Bite!

(Article first published as Music Review: Nazareth - Big Dogz on Blogcritics.)

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and in the case of Scottish hard rock veterans Nazareth, that is a very good thing indeed.

On “Big Dog’s Gonna Howl,” the lead off track to their new album, appropriately entitled Big Dogz, singer Dan McCafferty growls, “Tonight I got my mojo back,” a line which serves as a statement of purpose for this outing. Big Dogz represents a return to the band’s halcyon mid-1970s form, bringing to mind the classics Hair of the Dog and No Mean City, when the band was at their grungy best.

Though idolized by types like Axl Rose of Guns ‘N’ Roses fame, Nazareth never reached the pinnacle of fame in the United States attained by their peers like Deep Purple, who the Naz once blew off the stage nightly while touring in that era.  Perhaps that is because the band always featured an eclectic musical attitude that most of the others lacked: whether turning Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight” into a hard rock classic, or revamping Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of Hollis Brown” into the murkiest of bleak grunge-blues, Nazareth was always at home with genres like country, blues, and folk, and still made them all rock.

The same spirit of adventure and experimentation is showcased on Big Dogz. The aforementioned, bass-heavy “Big Dog’s Gonna Howl” harkens back to the riff from their staple “Miss Misery,” from Hair of The Dog, with McCafferty’s whiskey and cigarettes voice, which sounded ancient even when he was young, here as raw and powerful as ever.

Other highlights here include the rocking “No Mean Monster,” which sounds gleefully unhinged, as McCafferty imagines the creature from the cover of the No Mean City album escaping his fictional prison to cause havoc in real life. “When Jesus Comes To Save The World Again” opens with some folk-blues acoustic guitar, as the singer mocks those who sell religion door-to-door, and the song resolves itself in a thundering electric-slide riff. “I don’t want to be saved/I don’t want your God/I don’t want your fear,” screams McCafferty.

“Radio” is a throwback to the band’s hit-making days of “Love Hurts,” with a catchy drumbeat and a big pop sensibility enveloping the singer, who powerfully eulogizes “Songs that you forgot about/And songs that changed the world.” “Watch Your Back” could be an outtake from the band’s grimy 1976 offering Play ‘N’ The Game, proving that the old boys can still hack it on the streets, as McCafferty details ghetto life where the “girls go to church/and the boys go to jail,” backed by some nifty wah-wah guitar from Jimmy Murrison.

Not everything here works: “The Toast” is a corny salute to inebriation that sounds more like an in-joke amongst the band, and “Butterfly” is a well-meaning ballad that verges on the maudlin. But overall, Big Dogz is far better than fans of Nazareth had any right to expect at this late date. Then again, the whole point of this album is that it’s never too late to rock.  And the proof is in the sonic pudding.

Have a drink on me, fellas!

--Johnny "Gutter" Walker

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