This 1971 self-titled debut may stun fans who are accustomed to the hard-driving rock and gritty power ballads that characterize Nazareth's more popular work. Nazareth is a diverse collection of songs that points the way towards the pop leanings that would dominate the group's later output. Although it lacks the consistency of later albums like Hair of the Dog and Expect No Mercy, fans of 1970s rock will find plenty to enjoy on this surprisingly adventurous disc. The overall sound is softer than the hard rock the group is best known for, but that doesn't mean the album isn't lacking in good old-fashioned rock & roll. "Witchdoctor Woman" is a moody rocker built on a slow, spooky fuzz guitar riff, and the group's sinister cover of "Morning Dew" transforms this folk classic into a hard rock epic that provides a powerful showcase for Manny Charlton's powerful but imaginative guitar work. A lot of time is also devoted to country-styled ballads like "I Had a Dream" and "Country Girl," which set dreamy melodies against a gentle backdrop of keyboards and steel guitar. The most surprising thing about Nazareth is the experimental, effects-laden approach used to bring the songs to life; the best example is the use of a voice box guitar for the much of the vocal on "Fat Man," which enhances the loneliness of the lyrics. There are also touches of orchestration, the most interesting use appearing on "Red Light Lady," a song that starts off as a steamy, guitar-heavy rocker but transforms midway through into a stately ballad driven by a powerful string arrangement. All in all, Nazareth tries out too many different styles to ever cohere, but it does effectively show off the chops and songwriting skills of this oft-underrated band. It is a necessary listen for the group's fans and may even win over '70s rock fans who wouldn't normally go for the Nazareth sound.
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