June 05--Press play on the Staves' debut LP, Dead & Born & Grown, and almost immediately, the voices materialize, backed by nothing but air.
Rising like a sunrise, the immaculate, crystalline harmonies shared by sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor on the record's opening track, Wisely and Slow, radiate outward, all but pinning listeners to their seats.
It's an arresting way to begin an album, particularly a freshman effort, but according to the eldest sibling, Emily, the bold choice was deliberate.
"We used to sing a lot of a cappella songs when we were kids, up until we could play an instrument," the 29-year-old singer-songwriter says from a Kentucky tour stop. "It felt like it was at the core of where we came from musically."
Other instruments do eventually filter in, but those three voices -- lovely, lilting, smooth as glass -- never stray far from center stage, even as the songs begin to turn from pastoral to faintly stormy.
What's more, Dead & Born & Grown is the rare record these days that reflects the Staves' live show almost perfectly, despite the fact that the sisters often perform with nothing more than an acoustic guitar for accompaniment.
"We wanted to represent within the record where we are at the moment, and to do that as honestly as possible was just to record as live as possible, as few overdubs as possible, and that's how we did it," says Emily Staveley-Taylor. "We just sat in a room, in a little circle and recorded it, and if you listen to the album and you come to a gig, you're not going to be shocked and horrified at a huge difference."
The sisters have been performing professionally for all of just three years, first at open-mic nights in their hometown of Watford, England, and not long after, as opening acts for bold-faced names like Tom Jones and the Civil Wars.
Following a series of well-received EPs, signing to Atlantic Records and buzzy appearances at South by Southwest, legendary producer Glyn Johns, along with his son, Ethan, was drafted to produce the Staves' first record (the band's name comes from a shortened version of the sisters' last name, rather than the technical term for a musical staff).
"We were like one big dysfunctional family," says Staveley-Taylor, laughing. "For us, it was a dream come true, because we'd grown up listening to so many albums Glyn had produced."
The Staves arrive on American shores at a moment when folk and folk-influenced music is firmly in the mainstream, yet Staveley-Taylor admits she's leery of putting so specific a label on the trio's music: "Kind of acoustic-y, sort of maybe pop, folk but not traditional folk, with a bit of indie-rock harmony, Americana stuff," she says. "It's so hard to pin it down."
Nevertheless, whether in concert or on record, labels should be the last thing on anyone's mind. This is music to luxuriate in, swooning at the depth and purity of those singular voices, gorgeous specimens with melodies that stick in your head for days.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713 Twitter: @prestonjones
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