Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hark! The Village Wait - Steeleye Span

Hark!  The Village Wait
Steeleye Span
Mooncrest Crest 22

A 1974 re-issue of the original RCA release.  This was their debut album and is my favorite Steeleye Span album.  It features the unique Steeleye Span line-up of Ashley Hutchings, Maddy Prior, Tim Hart, Gay Woods and Terry Woods who only stayed together long enough to make this album.  I was into British folk-rock for awhile, largely because I loved Fairport Convention so much and was trying to find something comparable to "Liege and Lief."  Of course I never did, but this came pretty close.  It basically follows the classic folk-rock pattern of adding electric guitars and a rock rhythm section to traditional songs.  Unlike later Steeleye Span albums which leaned more towards rock, this one is still pretty much a folk album, emphasizing mood, harmony and beauty.  When the Woods left after this album, the group cranked up the volume and I was never completely satisfied with the results.  For example the version of "The Blacksmith" on here is subtle and moving, whereas the remake on "Please to See The King" is loud and powerful yet also a bit irritating, the song just does not invite that kind of heaviness.  This record is full of wonderful singing arguably the best singing on any of Steeleye Span's albums.  Maddy Prior is a fine singer but at times I do find her voice kind of overbearing and harsh, almost shrill.  Gay Woods has a gentler, sweeter voice and their duet on "Fisherman's Wife" sounds heavenly.  Their voices blend superbly, they complement each other so well.  Woods' harmonies in support of Prior's lead vocals on "One Night As I Lay On My Bed" and "All Things Are Quite Silent" add warmth and depth to the songs.  Her own leads on "Lowlands of Holland" and "Dark-Eyed Sailor" are sublime.  I also like "Blackleg Miner" sung in a nasally vocal by Tim Hart which describes labor strife.  (There is also an excellent version of this song on Richard Thompson's "1000 Years of Popular Music.")  Terry Woods has a passionate vocal on the hunting song, "The Hills of Greenmore," which is one of the more powerful songs on the album.  It is a shame that this line up of the band didn't last longer.  This is an excellent album, one of the best British folk-rock albums I've ever heard.  Really only the absence of a first rate instrumental virtuoso such as Richard Thompson keeps this record from surpassing Fairport Convention's own work in this vein.  The songs are well chosen and tastefully performed, there is not a bad song on the record.  It is a consistently enjoyable and interesting album that stays with you long after it is over.  Recommended to Fairport fans who wonder what might have happened if Ashley Hutchings had stuck around and recruited a good singer to replace Sandy Denny when she left.

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