The Lark in the Morning: The Early Years
Lark in the Morning: The Early Years is a mid-priced, two-disc rendering of the band's first three records. Remastered for the first time, Hark! the Village Wait, Please to See the King, and Ten Man Mop are featured in their entirety, and in their original sequence, making this an absolute necessity for fans, and a perfect entry point for the uninitiated. Steeleye Span are masters of arrangement, and nowhere is that more evident than on their debut. Though familial tension ran high during its recording, Hark! the Village Wait yielded some of the most agreeable tunes the band ever laid to tape. Beginning with the a cappella "A Calling-On Song," the group established itself as peerless singers, utilizing the dual lead vocals of sirens Gay Woods and Maddy Prior to a tee, particularly on "My Johnny Was a Shoemaker" and "Dark Eyed Sailor." The lineup is legendary, rivaling only Fairport Convention in their Sandy Denny/Richard Thompson heyday. Ashley Hutchings, Dave Mattacks, Tim Hart, future Pogue Terry Woods, and Gay and Maddy produced a landmark album that continues to inspire countless musicians and fans alike. For their follow-up, British-folk icon Marin Carthy and former classical violinist Peter Knight were brought in to replace the departed Woods family, resulting in a more challenging, folk-based approach. The disappearance of drums gave the songs on Please to See the King the distinct timbre of electric medieval music, using Hutchings' bass in lieu of a courtly tambourine. The record yielded beautiful ballads ("Lovely on the Water") and brutal electric dirges ("Boys of Bedlam") anchored by Prior's and Hart's lilting pipes and Knight's complex violin parts. The reissue includes a cover of the Buddy Holly hit "Rave On," explained by Hart as "an idea the record company had for a possible novelty hit." While not their strongest, Please to See the King signaled the beginnings of a real force in the burgeoning world of folk-rock. Ten Man Mop finds the group getting sparser still. Like the gritty live act they had become, the songs straddle the fence between hauntingly beautiful (the gorgeous "Wee Weaver") and drunk and jaunty ("Marrowbones" and "Four Nights Drunk"). An added bonus is the inclusion of "General Taylor," a long sought after piece of vocal magic that sounds right at home at disc's end. The excellent remastering job does wonders, especially on King and Mop, warming up the analog hiss and removing some of the more piercing elements that plagued earlier versions. A 12-page booklet with liner notes by the bandmembers, as well as some photos, rounds out this irreplaceable collection from one of folk-rock's -- or any genre for that matter -- most influential and rewarding outfits.