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Jon Anderson

Song of Seven

Review by Gary Hill

There was a time when this album from Yes man Jon Anderson was my all time favorite disc by anyone. Mind you times have changed somewhat. I’ve discovered other music and my tastes are not quite the same as they were then. The truth is, though, while there have been other discs to take its place; I still appreciate the magic and beauty that is Song of Seven. I have no question why it resided in that slot on my list of favorites. People have remarked over the years that this is just a pop album. It has that side to it, but as I knew then, there is a lot more going on than that. Doing track-by-track reviews as we do at Music Street Journal gives one an interesting view of CD’s. You find that albums you considered great on casual listenings often lose their luster under deeper scrutiny due to an over-reliance on the same musical foundations. On the other hand, a disc like this that at first glance might seem to be simple pop music takes on new manifestations. Mind you, I had spent enough time with this in the past that there were no surprises to me, but that said, it is amazing how fairly complex and unusual musical formats are made to sound so catchy and simple here. That is truly a work of genius and one of the magical things about this album. Song of Seven may not remain my favorite album of all time, but it certainly is up there and really holds up even after all these years.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2007 Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
For You For Me
While the almost disco sounding rhythmic structure lends a very pop music oriented mood to this, the nearly spoken, vocal line and the other instrumentation add a sense of purpose and power. I’ve always considered this track to be an extremely empowering piece of music. It’s also a great way to start off the CD.
Some Are Born
This one starts off with tribal world chanting sounds. As this ends a ballad mode enters and Anderson’s voice glides across this backdrop painting pictures with sound. It is built up gradually from there and has a rather bouncy sort of approach. This gets a great jazzy sort of texture built into the bridge segment. It’s still bouncy and fun, but also substantially altered from the modes that came before. Then the track launches into a series of quick changes that one could picture (albeit presented a bit differently) making their way onto a Yes album. It drops back to the song proper to carry forward. This is another strong track and eventually combines several of the varying modes into the closing sections.
Don't Forget (Nostalgia)
A catchy and gentle number, this has a 1950’s ballad sort of feel to it, mind you with a Jon Anderson twist. I’ve never been a fan of the “doo wop” sort of sound that makes up the inspiration for the music here, so this one has always been a hard sell for me. The vocal performance and horn soloing, though, raise the track above its roots. This turns to a more joyous, almost tribal approach at the end that is definitely a great touch. While I’d have to say that this is my least favorite piece on show here, it’s actually a good number. I just have some biases towards the type of music that makes up the musical backdrop.
Heart of the Matter
This one has some definite R & B styled roots, but once again, when brought through the Jon Anderson music machine these things are transformed into a fresh and unique sound. I like this one quite a bit, although in many ways it’s one of the more lightweight tunes on the CD.
Hear It
At less than two minutes, this is the shortest cut on the disc. The acoustic guitar ballad approach, though, is among the most potent and prog-like segments of the disc. This feels very much like it could have found it’s way on to a Yes album. Anderson’s vocal performance here is exceptionally powerful and passionate.
Everybody Loves You
While this cut, with its theme of “Everybody loves you / But I just love you a little bit more” might seem a bit silly and trite, I’ve always really enjoyed it. Musically this one has both a pop texture, but if you dig a little deeper a definite jazz and prog influenced styling. The vocal arrangement on this one has some intriguing modes, too. The bridge section, with its more ballad-like motif is another highlight of this piece. The jazz jam with almost tribal chanting, along with the Gregorian chant induced movement that follows it is also worth mentioning.
Take Your Time
A song extolling a break from the hectic always on the run lifestyle of the modern world, this cut is appropriately restive and gentle. It reminds me a bit of some of the old 19th Century pop music you might have heard. It has that sort of playful old world texture, but done with a more modern sensibility. I don’t know that too many people could pull off a piece of music like this, but Anderson and company truly make it work for them.
Days
While this song is also mellow in texture, it serves as a rather stark change from the one that preceded it. This has more of a mellow fusion meets prog approach on its musical themes. A short instrumental introduction gives way to the progressive rock ballad motif that lays the backdrop for Anderson’s vocals. This is pretty and potent and a highlight of the CD. It contains both gentle melodies and themes, but also some harp playing in an atmospheric instrumental outro.
Song of Seven
Clocking in at over eleven minutes in length, the title track is the sole epic length number on show here. It’s also the best number offered up on this album. Sounds (they’ve always seemed like children playing) from the piece before begin this one. Then gentle atmospheric sounds begin to rise up as Anderson and company begin this sublime musical journey. It’s a minute or so in before these sounds feel like more than just textures and about another minute until melody lines seem to emerge. These playful sounds don’t remain long, though, instead replaced by a bouncing sort of rhythmic structure and extremely classical tones. While the sound of the music here has its roots in classical music it still manages to feel rather playful and fun. Anderson and the others work through these musical themes and work their way to a vocal pattern that is delivered almost as a part of this rhythmic instrumental motif. They build it upwards after a time to a crescendo. Then the piece is reinvented in an exceptionally powerful ballad structure that feels like one part piano based folk music and one part progressive rock. This segment is another of the spiritually invigorating movements of the disc. It builds and grows ever so organically and brings your heart along for the ride. My advice for listening to this part of the song is to close your eyes and let it envelope you. After a time they crescendo this and then bring back the same classical mode, but with a more intense arrangement on it. This runs through for a time and then gives way to another passionate vocal exploration by Anderson that is punctuated at the conclusion of the delivery by a tasty guitar solo. The effect of the music during this whole section is a steady, but gradual building process. There are moments here that call to mind Yes quite a bit. This becomes more and more developed and powerful as it works through several iterations. When it reaches an emotional peak it does something that very few artists do – it drops down. Yes have always made that sound almost a trademark – following a truly dramatic piece of music with something extremely gentle as an extended resolution. This is exactly what Anderson does here. The result when done right is an evocative sense of fulfillment. That’s precisely the effect here. The final outcome is that it leaves you feeling like you want to hit the “repeat” button on your CD player and start the adventure all over again.
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