Of Wondrous Legends

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The year is 1971 and Stephen Titra, from Chicago, records an LP with advance money from Universal. The record company ends up passing on the album, and the project, Of Wondrous Legends, grinds to a halt. And just like that, the world lost a fabulous (yes, fabulous) folk LP. Dawson Prater, head of Locust Music, stumbled upon one of a handful of test pressings over 30 years later, managed to track down Titra, and finally released Of Wondrous Legends in 2008. By then, unearthing obscure psychedelic and freak folk recordings was the craze, with very mixed results, but rest assured that this album has nothing to do with those kinds of productions. In fact, Of Wondrous Legends is surprisingly "straightforward" and well recorded. Titra's songs are poetic, soaring, imbued with a fondness for Romanticism and Old Europe, with a current of humanism running through the lyrics. Most of all, his voice is very pleasant and he is surrounded by solid musicians. As a result, the album offers genuine pastoral folk of the highest caliber, up there with Shawn Phillips' Second Contribution (the closest comparison and, frankly, the best compliment one can make). Had this album been known a few years earlier, it could have been seen as an influence on contemporary folk artists like In Gowan Ring. There is not a single weak track on the album, with only "Renaissance & Rococo" sounding derivative (of King Crimson's "I Talk to the Wind" and "Cadence and Cascade"). "A Tale of a Crimson Knight" and "Breton Landscape" are the best soft numbers, while "Midnight Carnival" and "Everyman & the Philosopher King" lively up the set with a rocker edge. Of Wondrous Legends ranks among the very best previously unknown finds of the last decade, as it would rank among the best folk records of the late '60s/early '70s had it been released when it was recorded. A must-have, as much for collectors of obscure psych/folk than for fans of Simon & Garfunkel. Yeah, it's that good, that accessible, and that universal.

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