It was the stated similarity to Yes and Renaissance and inclusion of "Annie Haslam-like" female vocals that convinced me to try the American progressive band Leger de Main's 1997 album Second First Impression recently. An earlier album entitled The Concept Of Our Reality is still available.
Indeed the Relayer-era Yes sound carries the album instrumentally, but the edge is a bit harder and at times harsher. With electric guitar, synthesizers and keyboards played by Chris Rodler, the album includes six tracks: a very harsh and abruptly ending intro and then five epics, each with multiple movements that cover the range of progressive rock sounds.
Again in an almost Yes-like way, several brief acoustic guitar parts are inserted in the calmer sections of the tracks. Synthesizers and other keyboards are supported by ample progressive percussion provided by Brett Rodler. Guest artists provide additional guitar work as well as solos to each of the epic-length tracks.
The album has mostly a hard edge, but a couple of the tracks soften the blow and allow Melissa Blair's vocals to carry a solid melody. Melissa's voice is very strong but on this album it would be a significant stretch to compare her to Annie Haslam in sound although the progressive Renaissance-like singing style is indeed very similar. We'd compare her vocal sound more to All About Eve's Julianne Regan and even more to (the less well known-) Crannog's Maria Miller. Melissa can sing soft and light, and be hard and rough when she needs to be to get the point across.
While we generally prefer albums with a significant female vocal content, Second First Impression is far better balanced between vocal and instrumental work being more typically progressive than Renaissance for example.
While I don't consider the opening number anything special, from the second track "Silent Monster" onwards, it was clear that Leger de Main had captured some of the Yes sounds that we loved so many years ago. The Relayer similarity at times is uncanny. The musical themes for the album are established in the second track and those that follow build upon them.
The vocals engage in the epic third track "Changes with the Day" which opens with a far softer edge and an almost folky sound and provide an excellent illustration of the way the band have produced their sound taking advantage of Melissa's voice. The progressive sound builds throughout the song and here you'll even recognise a Keith Emerson keyboard riff. When the almost unexpected reprises of the "Different days lead to different feelings ..." chorus engages, there is unique warmth that comes into the song. Melissa's voice is consistently carried way up above the instrumentals. The range of sounds, and range of her vocal styles make this a super track.
"Some Shall Search" opens with a far harder edge than the song that precedes it. Unlike the others on the album, the band have multitracked Melissa's voice and this has been done very effectively. However, I found it hard to hear the movements within the song work together as a whole, perhaps due to the hardness of the overall sound, and the fade at the end is a hint that the song might have never been properly finished.
"Do Whispers Die?" marries the wonderful melody from "Changes With The Day" with a bit of vocal multitracking and returns the band to the style I prefer. The movements link together perfectly with swirling keyboards and a warm electric guitar not unlike we'd hear from Steve Howe. This song is unequivocally my favourite on the album and it must be heard to be fully appreciated. If this is what Leger de Main is all about, I'll keep coming back for more.
Almost like another movement to the track before it, the album's closing track, entitled "The Story" begins. It is an typical example of the band's "multiple movement" progressive style. Here you'll hear the full range of what the band are all about and Maria's full range of styles packed into one epic-length progressive track. The choruses, if you can call them that, in this song are the best illustration of the band's Relayer "Sound Chaser"-like Yes sound.
Overall we'd say this album is surely worth a journey and we've therefore given it three stars (***). It's better than many progressive albums we've heard and the band have shown their great potential to spin complex elements together in ways that allow each of the artists contributions to shine through.
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Give Leger de Main a listen. This is a very good progressive rock album with a lot of terrific music on it.
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