“At least half of the songs on the record”, says John Amadon in the interview that forms part of the promo package for his third album, “deal with a deluded obsession I had with a girl”. A lot of great music has originated in similar circumstances, and the thirteen songs on Seven Stars take this unrequited relationship only as their starting point. Hailing from Portland, Oregon, Amadon recorded these songs after a five year gap from music, and perhaps this is what gives the album its aspects of depth and purpose, the sound of an experienced musician making an album at exactly his own pace and, far from inadvertently, producing a cohesive and highly personalised sequence of songs which posess a resonance and finely crafted lyrical adroitness.
Opening with “Empty Fiction” the mood is, for want of a more immediately effusive phrase, laid back. This isn’t to say that the song and the twelve which proceed from it are in any way soporific, lacking in energy, or even dull. They’re very far from any of those things, but anyone expecting electronic mayhem and self destructive glampunk metal excess is advised to look elsewhere. Amadon’s songwriting is of the reflective, AOR school and the songs themselves are frameworks for guitar playing that on more than one occasion reaches levels of actual virtuosity, and that takes its cues from some musicians and bands not all of whom are as well known today, as they perhaps were three or even four decades ago. It’s possible to detect references to Poco, Nick Drake, Tom Petty and inescapably Lennon throughout Seven Stars.
Those influences are drawn upon with skill. As the album progresses, so the songs gain momentum as Amadon and his fellow musicians consistently bring invention and ability to their melodic templates. “Let’s Walk Without Talking” displays some unobtrusively atmospheric keyboard to give the mixture of alternately strummed, overdirven and classically picked guitars a swirling backdrop. What is an already impressive album really takes flight with “All Patched Up” though, its deceptively unobtrusive opening sequence developing into a brilliantly chiming chorus that as swiftly pulls back into the acoustically mellow intro sequence then turns the powerchordage back on again, a bravura and anthemic exercise in the kind of music some stadiums were actually built for. “Bitter Prayers” echoes George Harrison in its evocative 12 string glissandos, and some verging upon eccentric player piano adds a subtle comment on the more wayward side of those Abbey Road experiments. Amadon might wish us to accept that Seven Stars is only really thirteen songs about a girl, but there’s a keen musical wit at work throughout the album that has much to say about many things aside from relationship difficulties, and both Amadon and his backing band are obviously enjoying themselves hugely. The one song missing from the album is a bar room blues and “Lost Land” is the song we get instead of a whiskey anthem. It’s chorus refrain “I may be in a lost land / but I know who you are” has a wider resonance than that of a melancholy reflection on failed romance.
The albums title track is also the most obviously defined and personalised statement on Seven Stars, but it’s a musical rather than a lyrical one. The mix of Byrd-like 12 string guitar and a keyboard that might’ve belonged to ? And The Mysterians strikes an oddly jarring note after the high octane guitar intricacies that precede it, and it might’ve provided a suitably discordant finale to the album, but that honor goes to the measured cadences of piano ballad “Knocking Down Doors”, which also sounds as if it belongs on a different album, with its jazz inflected chordage and glitzy final moments. There’s a quite remarkable range of styles and approaches to musicality all the way through Seven Stars, although the abiding impression it leaves is that of a skilfully played guitar album, and some of the fretwork is very well performed indeed. John Amadon’s return to music after his five year hiatus music has produced some very notable results, and, will a musician of his abilities remain known only in and around Portland? I don’t think so either.