8/10• Wisely & Slow
• Gone Tomorrow
• The Motherlode
• Pay Us No Mind
• Facing West
• In The Long Run
• Dead & Born & Grown
• Winter Trees
• Tongue Behind My Teeth
• Eagle Song Among the current homegrown musical trends there is ample evidence for what may rightly be viewed as the third British folk revival. Since the resurgence in interest of the late 1990s, sparked by the accessible-traditional slant of Kate Rusby and Eliza Carthy’s experimental approach to the domestic folk canon, numerous artists have enjoyed the renewed popularity of a genre that never truly leaves us. As a result the market’s pretty crowded, and for every success there are countless also-rans. And it’s in this landscape that The Staves – Emily, Jess and Camilla Staveley-Taylor from Watford in northwest London – are staking their claim with original songs and lush sororal harmonies.
Much is made of the compatibility of one family member’s voice with another – so-called ‘blood harmonies’ – and the folk tradition is rich in singing families such as the Carters, Watersons and Wainwright-McGarrigles. With ‘Wisely & Slow’, the opening track on Dead & Born & Grown, the sisters waste no time in proving their mettle as a harmony group with a gorgeous a cappella section in which the three voices glide along with each other, occasionally skipping out of step before swooping back in perfect accord. It’s a Staves original but with a certain old-timey feeling about it, and more than a whiff of the ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ soundtrack.
Despite this opening foray into Americanism, Dead & Born & Grown is not an album that sticks to one style or pastiche; instead, the songs traverse the ground from traditional English folk (‘The Motherlode’, ‘In The Long Run’) to more modern folk-pop fare (‘Tongue Behind My Teeth’, ‘Mexico’). The trio of voices combines incredibly well, and it’s no surprise that the Staveley-Taylors have been asked to lend their talents to recordings by the likes of Fionn Regan and Tom Jones. Their songwriting, too, is not lacking in its charms. ‘Gone Tomorrow’ is a delightful musing on the internal struggles of a relationship that, musically and vocally recalls Alison Krauss, with perfectly pitched lines such as “You may notice my dishonesty / but I am only twenty-three” leaping out as pithy distillations of emotion.
It’s not all about the harnonies, either; among the standout tracks is the jazzy ‘Pay Us No Mind’, in which one sister takes the lead with a sultry, tired, scathing vocal that delivers the line “Fare thee well / I don’t give a fuck anymore” with jarring frankness. Elsewhere, however, the sisters don’t play to their strengths, leaving some tracks (‘Winter Trees’, ‘Eagle Song’) sounding somewhat uninspired, like discarded Laura Marling sketches. The Staves can certainly sing and write, but the depth and pathos of even Marling’s early work goes unmatched on this debut.
Ultimately, while Dead & Born & Grown might not be a trailblazing record of the current folk revival, the glorious harmonies and flashes of great songwriting are enough to make The Staves stand apart from the crowd. And having attracted the attentions of Bon Iver, with whom they have toured extensively in 2012, they should hopefully reach the audience they deserve.