Nazareth Snaz as reviewed by The Phantom TollboothAugmented band is ideal line-up for their live work – and now bigger and remastered.


Label:  Salvo

Time: 28 Tracks / 135 minutes

When riff-rockers Nazareth played live for the BBC in their ‘70s heyday, the sound was too thin for comfort. By the end of the decade, they had augmented their line-up. Originally it was fellow-Scot Zal Cleminson from the Sensational Alex Harvey Band (who left amicably just before this set); introduced on this tour are Spirit keyboard player John Locke and guitarist Billy Rankin.

Right from the start, the extra guitar power makes its presence felt, letting them solo without losing the power of the riffs. “Razamanaz” sounds as fresh and beefy as a herd of cows on heat and another classic, Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight,” has more thrust than the studio version. In between them, “I Want to Do Everything for You” sounds so much like Joe Walsh’s "Rocky Mountain Way” that you might be waiting for the voice-box to come in (that doesn’t appear until the mid-section of “Hair of the Dog”).

It is not intentional that this remastered collection features songs from just about every album they released apart from No Mean City. What this shows is how consistently they have produced strong songs, and this list - while not the best line-up of material that they could have produced – certainly does their repertoire credit. “Expect No Mercy” and “Hair of the Dog” show their power, while the acoustic guitar and vocal harmonies on “Heart’s Grown Cold” bring out their more vulnerable side. AOR success was about to throw them a curve ball, but this song ably demonstrates how comfortable they could be with power ballads.

It is one of the few examples of Locke using a strings sound on his keyboards. While it is good to have him as extra colour, it is unfortunate that most of his playing is tinkly piano. It works fine on the lesser, boogie-based songs, such as Rick Danko’s “Java Blues,” but the two short bursts of synth across the set only serve to make the listener hungry for more.

One of Nazareth’s strengths is taking cover versions and making them their own. Nils Lofgren’s “Beggar’s Day” and the oft-covered “Love Hurts” are significant parts of their show.  Their take on “Cocaine” is far funkier than Cale’s or Clapton’s and introduces their own hook. A nazarized “Shapes of Things,” powered by tom-toms, closes the first disc and makes the point eloquently. This explosive version even keeps the break-beat spacey middle section that makes this possibly their best-ever song.

As well as bringing a new sharp sound, this hugely expanded version (made with Salvo’s usual exemplary care) restores a couple of songs to the record of the evening and once they take the release up to a second disc, there is plenty of room for more treats.

Although the main CD is superb, the second has peaks and troughs.  Dan McCafferty’s vocals, gravelly as a couple of planets colliding, is tour-torn on the several tracks plucked from a Seattle show from the same year and some harmonies sound like the monitors were too low to keep them in tune. All of the six tracks from Seattle are duplicates from the main Vancouver show, and (except for “Cocaine” and “Hair of the Dog) not the best selections either.

Adding interest are a few studio tracks, including “Crazy,” a piece written at short notice for the soundtrack of Heavy Metal. The biggest bonus is a magnificent, galloping version of Tim Rose’s “Morning Dew” and – to make a great thing even better – a German cut of the same track. There is something about the guttural side of that language that makes it ideal for metal singers.

Altogether, this key release from the band captures them at their live peak, before their career went a bit wobbly.

Derek Walker