Release Date: 13 Sep 2019
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Our heroes are getting older. Axe called it a day earlier this year with an excellent Final Offering forty years after their debut and the spate of old bands releasing new material this year after decades away from the studio is a sign that they may not be alone. Case in point: Dan McCafferty, the voice behind Scottish hard rock legends Nazareth since he co-founded that band in 1968, left it in 2013 after 45 years after health issues prevented him from touring. The title of this album, only his third solo release, suggests that it may well the last we hear of him too. I hope not.
Initially, it looks very much like a look back at a life and a career. Just as it was impossible not to interpret David Bowie's last single, Lazarus, as a reflection of his mortality, McCafferty's clearly feeling his age and the weight of the years since he started singing for Nazareth. You and Me opens up the album with, "It seems so far away, all of our yesterdays"; "We lived our lives so fast, wondering if it could last"; "Those were the days before. They're all gone."
For a few songs, it seems like this is McCafferty saying goodbye to a life of music, even when he's singing about relationships in Looking Back. "It's goodbye," he says. "Can't hold on when it's gone." It's all melancholy and thoughtful and reflective. Yet, it's also an affirmation that it isn't over, at least not yet. "We can't move on," he sings in Tell Me. Look at the Song in My Eyes is present tense and a suggestion that he has more music for us in store. "I feel the music in me flow," he affirms.
He certainly sounds good, with a voice that knows when to be broken and when to roar. Why is a ballad that has a kick because of what his voice brings to it. I Can't Find the One for Me is a quiet song that carries some real power for no reason other than that he wills it. There are some exquisite moments in this song, McCafferty's rasp as iconic as ever.
And, after keeping it relatively calm for half a dozen songs, he shifts up a gear at the heart of the album as if he's half of his 73 years. Home is Where the Heart Is is a jaunty rocker with a whistling section and plenty of bagpipes. It's strong and would seem more so if it wasn't followed with My Baby, a raucous track with McCafferty spitting out the words like he's Brian Johnson.
At this point, we've worried and had our worries put to rest, we've had our emotions put through the wringer, we've been serenaded and rocked. And then he hits us with what is surely the best song on the album, Refugee. This is a poignant political commentary that's exquisitely written and delivered. It may well be the best message song that I've heard this year and, frankly, if there were any other candidates, they've probably just gone to hide. These words have bite and McCafferty nails them all.
Then it's Mafia, which starts out experimental then gets sweet and moves on with accordion. There's a lot of that here, because it seems that the music was written by Karel Marik, an accordion player from the Czech Republic who also produced the album. McCafferty wrote the lyrics and, of course, makes his presence count. He dominates the album, Marik's music mostly content to support the voice rather than try for the spotlight too.
It's a good album, though it's a long one too. I don't know if my copy is a special edition, but it runs six minutes over an hour, with fourteen tracks plus an acoustic version of the opener, You and Me, to close out. It might suggest that McCafferty dumped out the contents of his brain into what might indeed be his Last Testament. On the other hand, it might suggest that he's overflowing with songs and we can look forward to The Testament After Last and The Testament After That. I hope so.