Legendary Scottish rock group Nazareth released a new album entitled Big Dogz on May 10 through Eagle Rock Entertainment and Ear Music. Produced by guitarist Jimmy Murrison with Yann Rouiller, the new collection is aimed at recapturing the spirit and vibe of the band’s peak in the 1970s, with all the musicians performing live in the studio together, and with as few re-takes and overdubs as possible.
The album starts off strong with “Big Dog’s Gonna Howl,” featuring a slow, heavy rock riff. Dan McCafferty still has the unmistakable whiskey voice that is Nazareth’s trademark.
Things wander a bit with the next two tracks, which are nowhere near as strong. “Claimed” is somewhat plodding, with obvious lyrics, sounding a little bit like a demo instead of a stripped-down record. “No Mean Monster” is more up-tempo, but should have been recorded in a lower key. McCafferty is singing outside his natural range and sounds strained and unnatural.
“When Jesus Comes to Save the World Again” is an interesting choice for this band, venturing outside its usual lyrical fare for a topical song about religious hypocrisy. It’s good to see the band stretching, and the lyric is one of the best on the album, but the long, repetitive musical track doesn’t really suit the band’s strengths.
Nazareth is back on more familiar ground for “Radio” and “Time and Tide,” both of which could be strong live tracks. “Lifeboat” has a snappy groove and very strong melody. The feel-good track belies its lyric, which is a rant against against government encroaching upon personal liberties. Another very strong track is “The Toast,” an up-tempo song that is almost reminiscent of CCR in spots and features a guitar solo with unusual and interesting note choices from Murrison. “Watch Your Back” also plays to the musicians’ collective strengths, a heavy rocker with a lyric about street life in a gang.
“Butterfly” is a ballad displaying unexpected restraint and sensitivity, and the album ends up on an up-tempo rocker, “Sleeptalker,” which also sounds like it might make its way into the live shows.
The album’s strengths are in its gritty, genuine feel and solid delivery, as well as the fact that the band is attempting to stretch in some places. Its weaknesses are in a few fairly silly Spinal Tap-ish lyric lines (Staying out late in some dive bar/I’m digging that Bitches Brew/I know tomorrow I’m done for/But I need something to chew”) and the fact that some of the material is fairly predictable.
But then again, Nazareth is not really about musical surprises. Like AC/DC and Motorhead, this band is about delivering the kind of music that its fans have come to expect from it consistently. And that’s exactly what Big Dogz does. If you like Nazareth, you’ll like this abum.