Gracing all without a sense, St. Louis legends return to dispense truth for the seasons of cold.
There’s something disturbing in such an explicit linking of “Prodigal Dreamer” to "Pampered Menial" – PAVLOV’S DOG’s incredible debut – in terms of both cover artwork and the title, whose initials are part of the pun, yet then there might be the ultimate freedom in this unleashing of the band’s latter-day creativity. As their recent concert set "Live: House Broken" proved, David Surkamp‘s ensemble is still a force to be reckoned with, and 2010’s "Echo & Boo" didn’t turn out to become the concept finale of what started in 1975 and seems to be ending only now. If aficionados were begging for it just to be more, here’s a devil’s dozen songs to deliver simple wisdom and memorable melodies to the point when the curtains can fall to a round of applause.
This group’s greatest fault has always been setting their standards way too high – not only with regards to the pitch of David’s still distinctive voice but also in terms of compositional flair that he tried to recapture for years, and finally managed to conjure magic again without ever resorting to prog cliches, while channeling the past into the present via a couple of tracks co-penned with the collective’s original keyboard player Doug Rayburn, who passed away in 2012. Digging into musical cache doesn’t contradict Surkamp’s “never looking back, always looking forward” maxim, because one needs a firm footing in order to fly, which is why, anchored with organ, “Hard Times” would demonstrate immense gravitas in its rumination on the passage of years yet sound unexpectedly optimistic anyway. So although “Suzanne” is harking to the good old days, and the sad romanticism of “Paris” is introducing the staples of the singer’s writing style to new circumstances, Abbie Steiling’s plaintive violin prepares the listener for a piano-driven drama and tension carried throughout the album by the veteran’s familiar vocals.
For a contrast, the swagger of “Crying Forever” – a minor classic David submitted to SAVOY BROWN and included in PAVLOV DOG’s repertoire a few tours ago – has been delegated to his wife Sarah, and “Waterlow” has a sort of chamber frivolity to it, but the bluegrass-tinctured “Winterblue” is radiating acoustic wonder over a solemnly bleak background. There’s a fine logic to how the delicately skanking “Thrill Of It All” may shimmer rather tentatively, until the number’s rage is revealed for all to see and get burned with acidic guitar that provides bluesy licks to make “Hurting Kind” a deeply cutting ballad – to an extent where the pain inside negates the piece’s epic scope. Same alchemy is applied to “Aria” letting a military march dissolve in the tune’s sweetness, yet the bass-laden hymn “Shaking Me Down” will lead to some solid rocking and pave the way to the majestically spiritual “The Winds Wild Early”… A knowing nod to Hendrix isn’t easy to ignore, and it’s hard not to remember his “no, this will be the last” line: bowing out with so impressive a record, the classic ensemble must secure true immortality.