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Legend - Playing With Fire CD (album) cover





4.41 | 9 ratings

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4 stars Firstly let me thank SouthSideoftheSky for his excellent reviews of all three of the current Legend studio albums, along with this remastered collection of songs from the first two of them which were performed live at Runcorn UK in 1992 to be filmed for release as a concert video in Japan, where for some reason the band enjoyed far more success back then than they did at home.

The reasons for this are incomprehensible to me. Just like SouthSideoftheSky, I only recently learned of the existence of Legend, but they have been around since 1988. If you visit keyboardist Steve Paine's official band website (see link at top of the main Legend page), he says there: "Legend's songs are woven around mystical and pagan themes, folklore and archetypal myths" and maybe this apparent specialisation in the subject matter of the lyrics is putting people off and restricting their potential audience - I don't know.

Steve goes on to say "they are about passion - not fashion" and this certainly shows when you listen to their music. Let me say this - forget the pagan/wiccan influences, this band plays beautifully crafted songs that are a joy to listen to irrespective of what they are actually singing about. Just like SouthSideoftheSky, I have bought all the CDs of this band, and all are quite excellent - period!

This particular CD, "Playing With Fire" is not a straight through recording of the 1992 concert as it happened on the night, with applause, in-between-song banter etc., which in some ways is a shame - because I love to hear all that stuff too! There was talk a year or so ago of the concert itself being re-released on DVD, but that seems unlikely in the foreseeable future unless there is a sudden resurgence in interest for the band. I certainly hope this happens one day - my name will be right at the top of the order list for it! A brand new CD "Cardinal Points" is just about to be released, but more of that later.

On this CD most of the songs are remastered and included as a separate entity, with in-between applause faded out. It starts with a song from their first album "Light In Extension", namely "Pipes Of Pan", and continues with "Dance" from their then unreleased follow up "Second Sight". These two do indeed segue as played on the night, and it is not easy to spot the transition! Both are stunning up-tempo rockers, sung exquisitely by Debbie Chapman, but with wonderful keyboard breaks and guitar solos freely interspersed. The rhythm section that played live here, and which also recorded "Second Sight", was different to the one that did "Light In Extension" in the studio, and they perform absolutely superbly - so much so that even allowing for the remastering that these recordings have benefited from, they have given the songs something extra in my opinion. There are shifting time signatures throughout Legend's song repertoire, and they are all coped with admirably here! The whole band excels live - there was even a stunning light show on the actual night that led to a flurry of UFO sightings being reported later that evening!

The album continues in a similar vein with "Nightshade" and "Windsong" from the first CD - both again performed flawlessly. Debbie's voice has a clarity and purity comparable with that of Annie Haslam of Renaissance, and the energy and skill that all the musicians show here suggest that much rehearsing must have been done prior to this show in order to nail this material so well, as legend did not perform live all that often so I believe, and the second album itself was as yet unrecorded. The only actual cover on the album follows next - ie. "I Close My Eyes", originally a folk song written by Robb Johnson, and their version is once again superb. Such is their flexibility in being able to play so many different styles, I am quite sure they could make almost any song their own.

"The Chase" is another up-tempo rocker from the first album that gets the crowd clapping along - purely instrumental is this one, with Paul Thompson's guitar very much in evidence. The next song, "Legend", from "Second Sight", slows things down somewhat to start with, but still retains the band's unique "epic" sound, and builds towards the end into a rousing climax. "The Healer", after a brief and soulful instrumental intro, has Debbie singing along accompanied purely by Steve's electric piano before the rest of the band join in. This song again builds beautifully as it goes along, yet neither this or the previous piece , "Legend", have been played live much since.

"Lament" is a much slower song from "Light In Extension", and is followed by an arrangement of J.S. Bach's "Toccata & Blues" before the brilliant album closer "Light In Extension", the opening & title track from the debut CD. This song is performed superbly, as you might expect. It flows along beautifully from start to finish - exquisitely sung with a wonderful melody and some great individual keyboard and guitar performances - all held together throughout by the rock-solid rhythm section.

Legend's music is hard to pigeon-hole - they are classed here as neo prog and certain aspects of their sound certainly fall into that category, but there is so much more to Legend than this. They have their feet in numerous camps to my way of thinking - they touch on folk & gothic as well as traditional outright rock, but it is always done in their own unique style, and anyone who enjoys symphonic female-fronted metal such as Nightwish or Within Temptation will also find plenty here to enjoy. Some people have commented that this music might not be true prog - it MUST be, because no one else to my knowledge sounds quite like them!

A new album "Cardinal Points" is due for imminent release (late March 2011), with a new line up. Debbie Chapman is replaced by Kerry Parker on vocals, and there are different bass and guitar players from those who did the last two albums (not really surprising after a 14/15 year hiatus!). A short edit of "Spark To A Flame" is available via the "Listen" tab on Steve Paine's official Legend website, and this suggests that the band's continuity in style will be very much maintained despite these changes.

I have added a number of videos to this page which were uploaded by Steve to YouTube recently, & which I think show this magnificent band to good effect. If you've never listened to Legend before, then you don't know what you've been missing. The new CD is available to order now, & I can hardly wait for mine! Copies of the previous ones, including "Playing With Fire", are also still available from the same outlet at the time of writing - so get em while you can!

As for a rating? - 4.5 Cardinal Points at least! Maybe even pushing 5 in places! - It's good...!!!

progrockfreak | 4/5 |


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