The Newz

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Rock & roll can be a thankless business -- you can find yourself in the wilderness for a long stretch even if you have something like a decade's worth of classic top-notch work to be proud of. Nazareth found themselves in that situation, but, against considerable odds, managed to end ten years of recording absence in 2008 with The Newz, an unexpected return to form. (By the way, the same rather miraculous creative rejuvenation happened that same spring with their contemporaries Uriah Heep.) Although not at all new in stylistic content, this album is possibly their best since they started losing ground in 1981. It stands up really well in comparison to their classic '70s back catalog, and provides hope that they might just be poised to finally continue with that kind of quality after all those lean decades. Dan McCafferty still leads with the gravel-voiced charge that any AC/DC fan should appreciate, Pete Agnew still mans the bass, his son Lee Agnew now replacing the deceased Darrell Sweet on drums, and Jimmy Murrison, who joined in 1995 (having been in the same band as Lee Agnew at the time), is obviously up to fulfilling the challenge of keeping the sharp Nazareth guitar sound as vital as ever.

Only one warning: when listening to the album in sequence (it's over an hour long), by the end of track five it seems (despite the rather good but heavy tracks "Going Loco" and "Liar") as if things are not really going anywhere, just as one would have feared from an old band that seemed pretty much finished. Then, with track six actually going by the title of "Warning," the excitement finally kicks in and the album remains a winner from there on in. Still the perennial touring band (worldwide, even during the last ten years without a record contract), Nazareth deliver the requisite "on the road" songs like "Road Trip" and "Keep on Travellin'" (with its neat appropriation of the riff from "Nutbush City Limits"). So again, no change there -- which is a compliment in their case, because they have quite a legacy of great songs on that subject. However, some of the songs do touch on contemporary topics, "Loggin' On" being the most creative highlight, adapting a kind of '80s synth pop-style rhythm (without the synths, mind you) to the Nazareth blues-rock sound. "The Gathering," on the other hand, is another of those tried and tested seven-minute "battle scene epics" so beloved in the world of hard and heavy rock, and the album ends with blues lament "Dying Breed," traditionalist in the best sense. So the triumph here lies not so much in any new(z)ness of the music style, but in the fact that this band can finally deliver again and has started recapturing the spirit and force it had during the '70s.

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