The Staves are three sisters from Watford (which is just outside London) who sing the most beautiful harmonies. Jessica, Emily and Camilla. Their music is kind of folk, kind of pop. It’s a music that highlights the voices: most of their musical arrangements are simple, supporting the melodies rather than driving them. My iTunes play count tells me the reality: I have played The Staves more than any other band this year. I discovered them via a retweet from the DJ Bob Harris, which linked to a video of their song “Mexico”. I liked that a lot, so checked what else they had done. At the time it was just a couple of EPs in terms of recorded output. But everything I heard, I loved. Why? Well, the music was just… beautiful, soothing, uplifting. Music to retreat to after a difficult day.
I’ve written about the band in a few blogs before. See the end of this review for references.
The important thing now is that they have released their first album, “Dead & Born & Grown”. Guess what? I love it!
That said, part of the impact of the release, for me, was lessened because I already have quite a few of the tracks, from earlier EPs. But if you haven’t heard the band before, the album is a wonderful introduction.
It starts with “Wisely and Slow”, which is a song in two parts – a lovely acappella followed by a burst of African-style drums, which reminds me a bit of Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk”, from many years ago. Live, they just do the acappella, around the one mic. It’s fantastic. Here’s an example.
The next three songs are all old favourites: “Gone Tomorrow” is one of the first I heard, and I still love it. You might notice my dishonesty, well I’m only 23. (Is that an excuse?). “The Motherlode” and “Pay Us No Mind” were both on the “Motherlode” EP with “Wisely and Slow”. The title track is a sparkling song and quite lush in its arrangements, by the Staves’ minimalist standards. “Pay Us No Mind” has a drifting electric guitar in the background and surprises us with a random use of the F-word. Getting across the message I think, that the beauty of the songs doesn’t mean this is all a bit too nice.
We then get into the newly recorded songs – or should I say the songs I haven’t downloaded before? One of my favourites so far is “Facing West”, with a lovely lilting melody, those harmonies, and a little bit of mandolin and accordion in the background. The whistling isn’t necessary, but, hey, I don’t mind. And then “In The Long Run”, which gives me a shot of that wistful soul, which moves me every time. “Winter Trees” has a folky drone at the beginning and end which reminds me a bit of another band I really like, Espers. “Eagle Song”, the last track, suggests new directions and greater complexity in the future. More layers, more changes of pace and tone within a song. I’m intrigued by that, as long as they preserve those harmonies…
The song I first fell for is slipped in between the new ones. “Mexico”. It sounds as good as ever. And there’s no harm in posting the video here, again. The minimal backing, the sweet vocals, and the serenity. The essence of The Staves.
All three of the sisters take their turns with the solo singing through the album and they all have great voices, but it is always with the harmonies that the music really takes me in. It is then that it is truly music to soothe the soul.
Look, I know that there are probably loads of other singers and bands with similar talents and sounds. It’s not music that is going to change the world. But it is music that makes the world feel like a better place. And I love The Staves for that.
If you can catch them live, do. The simple power of their singing comes across in a way that is always difficult to replicate on record, even if “Dead & Born & Grown” does a pretty good job.
Here are my previous blogs that mentioned The Staves;
The Staves at the Tabernacle. Great concert.
Latitude festival – the detail. The Staves were there.
Two gigs and three discoveries. When I first came upon the band.
The latter post includes the band singing an old folk song called “Silver Dagger”, which I first heard being sung by Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. I like The Staves version better, and it may still be my favourite Staves song. The one where their harmonies are at their most glorious. As a bonus, if you’ve read to the end, here is that tune…