First things first. Dig out a vinyl copy and play the opening "The Request" at 45. There, you never need buy another copy of "Losing My Religion." Okay, now slow it back down again. The King of Elfland's Daughter was, Steeleye Span manager Tony Secunda later admitted, one of the most ill-timed projects he had ever been involved in, a full-fledged folk-rock concept album which forgot to ask whether anybody actually cared for folk-rock (or concept albums) any longer. It was the age of punk rock, a beast that did not necessarily impact upon the core support enjoyed by Steeleye themselves, but would certainly bare its teeth at any attempt to raise traditional music back out of the folk clubs. Add to that the somewhat convoluted nature of the concept's source, Lord Dunsany's late Victorian (and hence, pre-Hobbit) hodgepodge of mystic imagery and good old-fashioned fairy tale, and a star-studded cast that omitted any current stars, and the entire affair seemed to be riding a hot rail to oblivion. And so it proved -- sales were poor, promotion was negligible, and the album...the album was utterly preposterous. Musically, composers Bob Knight and Pete Knight fulfill their brief admirably, distilling the essence of the story down to a relatively straightforward epic of quest and discovery. But a succession of bludgeoning miscasts, ranging from an apparently tongue-tied Chris Farlowe to a frankly puzzled Alexis Korner, hopelessly overwhelm Mary Hopkin's lithesome appearances as the heroine, Lirazel, and P.P. Arnold's spellbinding witch. The musical accompaniment, meanwhile, is rarely more than functional, a series of perfunctory passages that rely on instrumentation, rather than actual construction, to convey the required folk-rock vibe. And still there is a charm to the affair that prevents one from simply throwing it away, a Quixotic valor, perhaps, derived from flying so hard against the prevailing winds that it deserves your attention for sheer gall alone. Or, maybe, it's the fact that a good story well told is worth its weight in gold, and this story is told very well indeed. AMG.
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