Lately I received two new albums released by Pavlov's Dog. LIVE And Unleashed is the first official live album in 36 years and Echo & Boo is the first new studio album in twenty years. For people who aren't familiar with this band: Pavlov's Dog were formed in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in 1972. They were named after the Russian physiologist Ivan Pavlov and his famous experiments with dogs. Pampered Menial, the band's debut album, was released in1974 followed by At The Sound Of The Bell (1975). As a result of many personnel changes quite a number of guest musicians contributed to the albums including jazz saxophonist Michael Brecker, saxophonist Andy Mackay (Roxy Music) and former Yes-drummer Bill Bruford.
One of the trademarks of the band was David Surkamp' s high-pitched lead vocals and his quickly wavering vibrato was often compared to that of Geddy Lee (Rush). You either love or hate his voice. Another trademark was the use of the Mellotron. The first two albums were dominated by the sound of this typical prog rock instrument loved by the devotees of the genre. In 1977 Pavlov's Dog released Third, but unfortunately I never heard that one. The band split up in the late seventies. In 1990, a re-formed version of the band recorded Lost In America. From the original line-up only David Surkamp and Doug Rayburn (Mellotron, flute) survived supported by guitarist Steve Scorfina. However, on this album the fine prog rock elements were lacking and I judged it to be mediocre.
On June 26, 2004, a reunion concert took place in St. Louis with the original line-up, apart from violinist Siegfried Carver, who deceased in 2009. Since 2005 a version of the band toured annually in Europe. In 2007 lead singer David Surkamp released his solo album Dancing On The Edge Of A Teacup. I'm not familiar with this one either, so I can't tell you whether it contains appropriate music for prog rock minded people.
In 2009 the band again did a European tour with the original members David Surkamp (lead vocals, guitar, mandolin) and Mike Safron (drums) in the line-up. From this tour several recordings were made that resulted in the album LIVE And Unleashed. During the almost eighty minutes of music you'll hear a band in pretty good shape. While listening to this album I was curious to know how the old material from the first two albums would sound after so many years. Well, I must say that the four tracks performed from Pampered Menial aren't that bad, but I rather listen to the original versions of Late November, Theme From Subway Sue, Episode and Of Once And Future Kings. Also on Gold Nuggets, the only track taken from At The Sound Of The Bell, I missed the passion of the original version. However, it surprised me that Mr. Surkamp's voice is still rather strong. It's obvious that also material from the other releases of the band were done. Even songs from Surkamp's solo album were on the set list, but also songs as Angeline, Angel's Twilight Jump and I Love You Still, that later on would be recorded for the band's latest album Echo & Boo. A special mention goes to the female violin player Abbie Hainz. She strongly played her instrument and from time to time she reminded me of the music made by Kansas. The difference is in the quality of the compositions. The music of Pavlov's Dog is more mainstream; they probably aim for a much larger audience.
That can also be said about the band's latest release (The Adventures Of) Echo & Boo (And Assorted Small Tails). After I've heard the first track Angeline I was inclined to think that the good old days had returned. It's a very strong tune and again the violin reminded me of Kansas. The studio version sounds more polished than the one on the live album and it somehow reminded me of the classic piece Julia from the debut. The next songs aren't bad at all having a certain quality level, but I can't consider them as prog tunes. Occasionally strong songs can be heard such as I Don't Need Magic Anymore, Echo & Boo and The Death Of North American Industry Suite that has been divided in four parts. These songs slightly resemble the older material, but it never reaches the same level as the epic piece Death Of Mother Nature Suite that Kansas released on their debut album (1974). However, it's not fair to compare Pavlov's Dog to a band that released so many classic progressive rock albums, although either Kansas released albums that can hardly be categorized as progressive rock. Maybe I too much wanted Pavlov's Dog to record a classic album again like Pampered Menial or At The Sound Of The Bell.
Sometimes peoples musical tastes develop in another direction than you would like to. That's life and that happens all the time, but in spite of that you can't say that Pavlov's Dog write bad songs. That's certainly not the case, but for people who enjoy progressive rock music, most pieces are not appropriate. Maybe I missed the Mellotron from the early days too much after all...
**+ / **+ Henri Strik (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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