Sound — 10
This one is one of those rare cases of an album with no skippable tracks. Fairport Convention's "Liege & Lief" had been released a few months before and Ashley Hutchings (bass) had quit the bands, got together with Gay (vocals and bothrán) and Terry Woods (vocals, guitar) and later with Maddy Prior (vocals) and Tim Hart (vocals, guitar), and created Steeleye Span. The overall sound has a lot of "Liege & Lief" in it, that album was definitely an influence, but somehow "Hark! The Village Wait" has a warmer, motherly sound: the vocal blends of Gay and Maddy's voices are magical. Terry Woods' track is touching. The song selection is impeccable. The musical arrangement is perfect in every way. The guest drummers are completely adequate, Hutchings' bass lines get way more creative, every sound, even the step dancing is perfect.
Lyrics — 10
Every song on this album is traditional except for track 1 "A Calling-On Song," which was written by Hutchings (the melody is traditional, though, called "Earsdon Sword Dance Song") and track 2 "Fisherman's Wife." Of course those songs fit right in with all the traditional ones. Seven of the songs are about the sacrifices or suffering someone has to live through when in a relationship. Of course, most of the relationship problems of the "traditional era" were about your husband going to conquer the new world and not coming back, or hte king/queen force-recruiting the lover into going to war. The lesson is always for the woman to stay true to their men and wait for their return, even if it's been more than seven years. Outdated? Yes. Captivating? Even more.
Overall Impression — 10
If we had to pick the best folk rock albums ever made, I guess "Liege & Lief" (Fairport Convention), "No Roses" (Shirley Collins with the Albion Band) and "Hark! The Village Wait" (Steeleye Span) and "Bright Phoebus" (Lal & Mike Waterson) would be on top. They all do sound kind of alike since it's all Fairport's influence: Ashley Hutchings is the leader in all those albums, Richard Thompson plays guitar on three of them, Maddy Prior sings on two, the arrangements get more and more creative. How does "Hark! The Village Wait" stand out? In my opinion, it's the vocal arrangements, the instrumentation and the song selection. I'm not sure if it's just me but sometimes I don't feel like listening to all nine minutes of "Tam Lin" or "Matty Groves" or don't feel like listening to "The Lark in the Morning Medley." "Cloudy Banks" isn't my cup of tea either. Sometimes the Waterson's vocals are too loud for my taste. None of this happens on "Hark! The Village Wait." I love Gay Woods. She and Terry are the standouts not only vocally but also the songs they contribute are the best one's on this album. ¿Is there something I hate about it? Probably that there are no live performances or bonus tracks. I know the contributed two songs on Lea Nicholson's "Horse Music" album ("All Through the Beer" and "Here We Come A-Wassailing") but there ain't much more. I hate that Maddy and Tim Hart were so selfish and led to the Woods' early departure early on. Maddy isn't as good as Gay and Tim isn't as creative as Terry. This lineup is definitely one of the best, not only in Steeleye Span's, but also in British folk-rock history.
1. "A Calling-On Song": This opening track hits you with all the beauty of the four vocalist's voices working together. Maddy takes lead. Beautiful and witty.
2. "The Blacksmith": Heartbreaking song sung by Maddy (with complex backing vocals by all the other guys). Great arrangement, Maddy is perfect for this song.
3. "Fisherman's Wife": Gay sings lead. Maddy does the backround vocals. The lyrics sound ancient and the girls handle the story really well, heartfelt.
4. "The Blackleg Miner": Tim Hart on vocals, Maddy goes on backing vocals in the intro and then Gay and Maddy help Tim on the final verse. Sounds amazing, Hutchings' bass line and Terry's 5-string banjo give this song a special feel.
5. "The Dark-Eyed Sailor": Probably my favourite track on this album. Gay takes lead and Maddy goes on backing vocals. Gay's vocal performance is perfect, warm, heartfelt, the story is awful and the worse is it fills you with hope where there should be none.
6. "Copshawholme Fair": Crazy lyrics sung by Maddy, weird melody, makes you feel like in a circus thanks to Gay's concertina. The ending is the best: vocals are out and Gay start's hitting the bodrhán pretty hard and step dancing comes right after. Too bad they didn't do this more often.
7. "All Things Are Quite Silent": Maddy on lead, Gay on backing vocals. One of the best tracks on this album. Last verse is awful, about the hopes and dreams of the woman who's probably never gonna see her husband again.
8. "The Hills of Greenmore": Sung by Terry. Probably one of the things I hate is that this is the only song he sung lead on. Beautifully done, best vocal performance on the album and probably on any Steeleye Span song.
9. "My Johnny Was a Shoemaker": Gay sings lead, Maddy goes on backing vocals and that's it. No other instrument. Just the two girls singing a-capella makes this song perfect.
10. "The Lowlands of Holland": Gay on lead vocals, the bass line is pretty cool, Dave Mattacks on drums, Maddy on 5-string banjo, Terry on guitar and Hart on the fiddle. Probably my favourite instrumental arrangement on this album. The story is again very sand and fits Gay's voice perfectly.
11. "Twa Corbies": Again, amazing vocal arrangement with eighter Gay or Maddy singing lead in different parts. The boys stay on backing vocals. Sad song about death and how nobody will really care if you die.
12. "One Night As I Lay on My Bed": Maddy on lead and Gay on backing vocals. Instrumental arrangement: perfect. Lyrics: kinky. Great way to close the album.
I have the original album in my car and I listen to it very often. I keep one copy in my mother's house and another one in my dad's car, so I hope I won't ever go bananas if I lose mine, but just in case Perú explodes and I somehow manage to survive, I'll ride my llama all the way to the British isles to buy a new copy.