Manny Charlton – Sharp/Sharp Reloaded (ALBUM REVIEW)

Looking more American than Colonel Sanders these days in cool (weather-wise) Hawaii shirt and trade-mark moustache, Manny Charlton is now an ex-pat in Texas who was born in Spain in 1941 but started his career in Dunfermline Scotland. Homeland of the Sensational Alex Harvey Band, Teargas (from which SAHB grew), Beggars Opera, Writing on the Wall, and Average White Band—to name just a few—the guitarist met singer Dan McCafferty after 15 years on the cover-oriented showband scene and founded Nazareth in 1968. The circuit proved to be a fruitful grounding both for gigging and hits too as a path to international success.

Nazareth had a string of them in the next decade: The Everly Brothers’ “Love Hurts,” Joni Mitchell’s “This Flight Tonight,” Tomorrow’s “My White Bicycle,” as well as their own modest successes “Broken Down Angel,” “Bad Bad Boy,” and “Holy Roller.” They covered a wide spectrum from Yardbirds, JJ Cale, Little Feat, Ry Cooder and ZZ Top to Leon Russell, Woody Guthrie and even Randy Newman. It’s a pity Manny repeats the chestnut on his website that their popular ’60s protest song Morning Dew—covered also by early Stray, Uriah Heep, and Grateful Dead among others—is by Tim Rose; the latter cheekily half-inched it (literally) from Bonnie Dobson. “Love Hurts,” their biggest hit, holds the record of 40 weeks in Norway’s chart. Charlton was not only their acclaimed guitarist but also producer, most notably on the Hair Of A Dog album that went platinum in the US and 2 million world-wide. What’s surprising, in market terms, is that their success came on smallish labels like Pegasus, Mooncrest (B&C), and NEMS—even when signed to Vertigo it was years after that (admittedly cult) label’s heyday.

After 22 years Charlton left in 1990 to concentrate on a solo career and, while in Germany, produce Jingo De Lunch and Black Crowes-influenced Shangai’d Guts. After Drool (1997, Red Steel) he moved to Texas with his American wife and cut a couple of band albums toured in Scandinavia. After this venture two mostly original solo albums followed, then decided to do some of his favorite listening from down the years. Worked on with drummer Steve Froese, plus Billy Pixel on upright bass for a couple of songs, Sharp came out in 2004 followed in a matter of months by Sharp Re-loaded. These have just been re-released by Angel Air Records as a two-hour double with near 20 minutes of bonuses which, ladies and gents, moves between atmosphere and pure bottom-kicking raunch. With a couple of non-hit Naz tracks revisited and Charlton/Froese compositions, this is a personal jukebox done his own way, as did Nazareth. He was a non-singing guitarist there so has chosen songs to fit his vocal range, and like the guitar style reminds me of another veteran Del Bromham, placed in a similar position after the first break-up of Stray. Fans of them will love this.

It leaves the traps with the Spencer Davis Group’s Muddy Water, a 60s standard here awash with fuzz effect. Arthur Big Boy Crudup’s “My Baby Left Me” is a more rootsy cull from Elvis Presley’s debut album, the first LP the guitarist’s mother gave him. A smoky, atmospheric version of “All Along The Watchtower” is neither Dylan, Hendrix nor Neil Young; Manny calls it reggae but it ain’t Marley either. Reverse guitar gives it a ghostly feel to tease out the original’s dark undertow. Two other Dylan songs appear: “Shelter From The Storm” (Blood On The Tracks), with nice jangly mandolin-like finger-picking for the typical sentimentality, and Wicked Messenger from John Wesley Harding based on the Bible’s Proverbs. Done also by Patti Smith, The Faces on their debut, and The Black Keys, this is a punchy new take with a Neil Young lilt to the vocal. Banjo and slide brings us to Emmylou Harris territory (“A Deeper Well”), also touched on with Blue Moon Of Kentucky, thankfully kept under two minutes—yuk, though I like the hi-hat last note.

Tim Hardin’s “Hang Onto A Dream” is delivered with fine vocal (the last Nazareth LP’s version, Snakes ‘n’ Ladders, disappointed him). An almost Cajun feel sizzles with the blues-standard “Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’,” thick with slide Dobro and echo vocals—Canned Heat rolled into New Mississippi All Stars jump out at you. Tribal rhythm from Froese melds with siren-like, call and response guitar. Mother band is revisited for “Please Don’t Judas Me” from their best-seller, here laced with reverse effect-laden guitar for hidden texture. Froese’s much-varied percussion throughout and occasional vocals add a stylish balance. The balladry with licks of the first hour winds up with the full-bodied Gibson’s groove of “Can’t Stop The Rain,” his warning ’bout religion. Even the fade-out could set you scampering to somehow crank the speakers up that few notches more for its heavy, noughties-style rumble.

The second CD of some longer songs, guest spots for drummers Jeff Jansen and Andy Weaver with vocalist Emil Gammeltoft on Nazareth’s “Fallen Angel,” opens gently with Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” from their biggest album, followed by another crack—with some hard-working tub-thumping ricochet—at Nazareth’s Cinema from the ’80s. Charlton’s “Sumkinda” revisits the swampy-bog boogie feel, to detour into Gene Clark’s “Strength Of Strings” in a Neil Young mode and longest cut of seven minutes (don’t understand the 30 sec fade-out, a regret throughout as there is guitar work added in most of them). Charlton pays tribute to the influence of The Byrds (“So You Want To Be A Rock ‘n’ Roll Star”), speeded up. The Beatles’ “Norwegian Wood” joins “Anna Go To Him,” also covered on their first LP: both have a ’60s feel (without the sitar), the latter almost calypso. Chugging riff with dissonant break and pithy lyric on the Charlton/Froese “Nearly Fine” edges into Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” cranked up at breakneck pace leaving even Mick Moody’s Juicy Lucy in its wake. Both versions have slide to great effect. Charlton’s “Mexico” and “Pushin’ Daisies” end the set on a uniformly fine note, an Americana-style south of the border tale followed by a Fuzz / Tame Impala stomp bringing it smack up to date.

A couple of years later Manny Charlton briefly joined the Swedish band From Behind with Nicky Moore (Hackensack/Samson/Mammoth) then cut another solo album, Americana Deluxe, before regrouping Nazareth in 2008. Actually one version of it, as two toured simultaneously. More recently touring with Spanish rockers Sacramento, he is also working with bassist Tim Bogert of Vanilla Fudge and Beck, Bogert & Appice fame. To my mind Nazareth lent too far toward the middle ground, they were AOR and proud of it—though declined to perform “Love Hurts” at Axl [sic] Rose’s wedding. Their live stuff has its moments, but rarely got down to the nitty gritty of letting-it-go rocking. Smooth it always was, mean and dirty wiped from the repertoire. Of course it’s personal taste. I always thought CCS’s version blew away Led Zepp’s histrionic original so what do I know. Sticking to the template from the outset, did the Scots actually need to rely on covers later?

Naz doesn’t forewarn us. Now that Manny chucks the platforms and glitz —the slickers were once seriously endangered by disappointed fans supporting Rory Gallagher’s dressed-down style—the swagger of free-wheeling multi-guitar comes at you from all angles. It oozes the A to Z of rock genres almost cinematically, built on long experience and love. Trying to select to stream any of this would be like spending your last dosh in a sale on a microwave that omitted to include the electrics. Both albums are a broad canvas that fit well together, the fade-outs show Charlton could rock all night he has so many ideas. It’s lovely to be surprised, it’s chuff-worthy to be bowled over. Yep, it hits the mark, one can’t resist replaying tracks—cripes, how to get to the end! In short, a blinder.

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