Every time I see the band name Legacy Pilots I can’t help but think of the movie Space Cowboys. As a reminder, it’s an American adventure film from 2000, directed and produced by Clint Eastwood, with a star cast consisting of Eastwood, Tommy Lee Jones, Donald Sutherland and James Garner as four elderly ex-test pilots sent into space to repair an old Soviet satellite – and meanwhile save the world from a nuclear disaster. Risking their own lives, Tommy Lee Jones is left behind on the moon.
Of course, the parallel is not entirely correct. The world does not need to be saved (however…) and the test pilots are all well past retirement age. Personal sacrifice doesn’t come into play. But still. A collection of old hands on a mission to ‘save’ prog rock using contemporary techniques and old-fashioned skills and melodies. Something along those lines. The current stars are Steve Rothery (Marillion), Pete Trewavas (Marillion), John Mitchell (Arena, Lonely Robot), Marco Minnemann (Aristocrats) and Todd Sucherman (Styx), as on the previous three albums. Excellent albums with a penchant for the golden times of Yes, Genesis and especially Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
Legacy Pilots is the brainchild of German producer/musician/singer Frank Us. With the help of a collective of excellent musicians, he has regularly released new material since his debut in 2018. He himself is responsible for most of the music and lyrics. The guest musicians guarantee a more than solid interpretation of the individual parts. Moreover, he understands his profession as a producer and the tasteful keyboard parts are almost all his own.
In addition to the already mentioned and praised musical craftsmanship, there is something else that stands out above all: the formidable vocals. Us uses some excellent vocalists too. It starts with the recognisable, somewhat raw voice of John Mitchell in the first two prog/pop songs, True Spirit and The Even Chance, written by both musicians. But bassist Lars Slowak is also an accomplished singer, as demonstrated on A Sense of Hope, accompanied by Todd Sucherman’s thunderous drumming. And buddy Finally George also has a great singing voice. But for me, Jake Livgren steals the show. The talented nephew of Kansas icon Kerry has a voice that is a cross between Joseph Wiliams (Toto), Steve Walsh (Kansas) and Bobby Kimball (Toto). It’s no coincidence that the latter two are also his favourites and sources of inspiration. Great singer this man, which he already showed with Proto-Kaw.
In particular his voice can be enjoyed in the culmination of the album, the epic re·sponse. This song forms the core of the album, clocking at over seventeen minutes, divided into eight chapters. Besides Livgren’s voice, the long guitar solo in Part II by Steve Rothery is also a great highlight. Despite the eight sections, it never feels fragmentary, but rather smooth and organic. Brilliant.
But it’s not over yet – far from it. Closing track Exploring My DNA is fourteen minutes of progressive rock in the best tradition of the genre. The music sounds darker, more menacing than in Re·sponse, Frank Us, Marco Minnemann and Pete Trewavas together form a modern version of Emerson, Lake & Palmer, especially note the ELP-inspired climax.
In a sense, Helix feels like a triptych, one part consists of a number of catchy prog/pop songs, another part is formed by the epic middle part and the closing section is especially wonderfully proggy. Frank Us and his fellow (test)pilots have once again delivered a pretty impressive job, which will undoubtedly appeal to many prog fans.
Don’t we all want to be saved, occasionally?
01. True Spirit (5:19)
02. The Even Chance (5:20)
03. A Sense of Hope (5:03)
04. A Little Differently (4:32)
05. re·sponse (17:31)
– re·sponse (I) Prologue (3:16)
– re·sponse (II) The Inner Battlefield (3:00)
– re·sponse (III) Tactical Measures (1:00)
– re·sponse (IV) Silent Eyes (1:47
– re·sponse (V) The Human Being (2:21)
– re·sponse (VI) Return of the Molecules (1:41)
– re·sponse (VII) Let the World Know (2:04)
– re·sponse (VIII) Epilogue (2:23)
06. Colors & Light (2:45)
07. So Nice to be Here (4:51)
08. Exploring My DNA (14:12)
– First Impression (6:11)
– Second Impression (2:22)
– Third Impression (5:38)
Total Time – 59:33
Frank Us – Keyboards, Guitars, Vocals, Bass
Todd Sucherman – Drums (tracks 2,3 & 5)
Marco Minnemann – Drums (tracks 1,4,7 & 8)
Pete Trewavas – Bass (tracks 7 & 8)
Lars Slowak – Bass (tracks 3,5-III & VIII)
John Mitchell – Vocals (tracks 1 & 2)
Jake Livgren – Vocals (tracks 4,5-II,IV,V & VII)
Finally George – Vocals (tracks 5-I & III)
Steve Rothery – Guitar (track 5-II)
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: Germany
Date of Release: 25th March 2023
– Helix (2023)
– The Penrose Triangle (2021)
– Aviation (2020)
– Con Brio (2018)