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Pavlov's Dog - At the Sound ot the Bell (LP)

Pavlov's Dog - At the Sound ot the Bell (LP)

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Genre: progressive
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title:  At the Sound of the Bell
Company: Columbia
Catalog: PC-33964
Year: 1976
Country/State: St. Louis, Missouri
Grade (cover/record): VG+ / VG+
Comments: original lyric inner sleeve; timing strip on cover; white label promo copy
Available: 1
Catalog ID: 6129
Price: $15.00

1976's "At the Sound of the Bell" continued the group's partnership with producers Murray Krugman and Sandy Pearlman. Original drummer Mike Saffron gave notice before the album was recorded with sessions player Bill Bruford handled drums on the album. During the recording sessions keyboard player David Hamilton was replaced by Thomas Nickeson.  The band also seemingly opted for a change in musical direction though the change may have been lost on anyone unaccustomed to vocalist David Surkamp. If his voice didn't irritate you like chalk on a chalkboard, then there was a good chance you'd find these nine songs were actually even more commercial than the debut. On the other hand, if Surkamp's voice drove you crazy; well you probably want to stop reading right here.  

With Surkamp again responsible for most of the material (four tracks were co-written with synthesizer player Douglas Rayburn), there were some distinct changes in the band's sound this time around. The debut's rock edges were almost entirely absent, replaced by a much more commercial sound (again I'm using the term in a broad sense), that was heavily geared to softer, ballad-oriented tunes like 'She Came Shining' and 'Standing Here with You (Megan's Song)'. In fact, most of these nine tracks seemed to be focused on the theme of lost love. I'm guessing the change in direction was meant to accommodate Columbia management's interest in breaking the band commercially, though for what it's worth, the decision to push lead guitarist Steve Scorfina into the background was a major disservice to the band. Tracks like 'Golden Nugget' were certainly pretty, but propelled by Surkamp's unconventional voice they had little chance of gaining commercial acceptance and the change in direction stripped the band of some of their most endearing characteristics.

- Surrounded by Douglas Rayburn's shimmering synthesizers 'She Came Shining' started the album with one of the band's prettiest melodies. The song started out as a gentle ballad with a Surkamp actually restraining his usual excesses, but gradually built up a distinct sense of anger and energy (Surkamp's vibrato also became more obvious as the track went on). Great Steve Scorfina guitar solo.  rating: **** stars
- ' Standing Here with You (Megan's Song)' started out as a sappy and insipid ballad. I remember playing this one for a friend and they were dumbfounded to learn a guy was actually singing the lead. Luckily, the track had a killer hook in the form of a chorus that featured the band's surprisingly enjoyable harmony vocals. rating: ** stars
- For anyone doubting these guys could recorded a pop song there was ' Mersey'. A top-40ish ballad with an instantly likeable melody, this one actually could have enjoyed radio success had it been released a couple of years later. rating: **** stars
- 'Valkerie' found the band finally breaking away from their top-40 orientation (yeah I'm using the term broadly), and returning to a more rock/progressive direction. While the song took a while to get going, it was one of the few tracks that gave the band a chance to stretch out; Bruford and the Carver (or guest sax players Michael Brecker and Andy Mackay) certainly benefited from the extra creative room. rating: *** stars
- With a likeable, breezy melody, 'Try To Hang On' was the album's most pop-oriented track and one of the few tracks that gave guitarist Scorfina a chance to shine with a blazing solo. rating: **** stars  
- 'Gold Nugget' was another ballad, but benefited from three factors: 1.) a subdued Surkamp vocal, 2.) one of the band's most memorable melodies. and some of Scorfina's prettiest work. rating: **** stars  
- An atypical up-tempo rocker with a horn arrangement, 'She Breaks Like a Morning Sky' probably gets my nod as best overall performance. Great unaccredited sax solo ... rating: **** stars  
- 'Did You See Him Cry' opened up with some atmospheric piano, synthesizers, and lead guitar before shifting gears into a progressive-oriented structure that sounded like Surkamp and company had been listening to quite a few 1970s-era UK progressive bands. Yeah, with the emphasis was clearly on Nickeson's keyboards and particularly Rayburn's synthesizers and the song bounced all over the musical spectrum, but it wasn't a bad way to end the album. rating: *** stars  

Curiously, judging by the liner notes credits, Columbia management doesn't seem to have had much faith the group's instrumental prowess, bringing in an all-star cast of sessions players including guitarist Elliot Randall and sax players Michael Brecker and Andy Mackay. So how to rate it compared to the debut? I'll be honest and admit I'm torn. I've always enjoyed the debut and I truly miss the rawer, rock edges. On the other hand, the occasionally subdued Surkamp vocals and pop song structures made the sophomore set worth hearing. Guess the more adventuresome folks out there will have to figure it out for themselves.

"At the Sound of the Bell" track listing:
(side 1)
1.) She Came Shining (David Surkamp - Douglas Rayburn) - 4:24
2.) Standing Here with You (Megan's Song) (David Surkamp) - 3:47  
3.) Mersey (David Surkamp - Steve Scorfina) - 3:03
4.) Valkerie (David Surkamp) - 6:22

(side 2)
1.) Try To Hang On (David Surkamp) - 2;08
2.) Gold Nugget (David Surkamp) - 3:25
3.) She Breaks Like a Morning Sky (David Surkamp - Douglas Rayburn) - 2:22
4.) Early Morning On (David Surkamp - Douglas Rayburn) - 3:21
5.) Did You See Him Cry (David Surkamp- Douglas Rayburn) - 5:36

And that was it for the band.  
Carver moved to Kansas City and largely dropped out of music focusing his attention on conservative politics and writing. Only 60, he died in May 2009.
Nickeson and Scorfina moved to California where they joined the band Gulliver (not the Darryl Hall group). Moving back to St. Louis they played in a couple of local bands, including The Memphis Underground, and Pave. Scorfina's also recorded a couple of self-financed CDs.
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