Fresh from supporting Bon Iver in the States, Watford's The Staves have released their anticipated debut record Dead & Born & Grown on Atlantic. It's a notable album, not least because it delivers on the promise of their 4 previous EPs alongside their work with Tom Jones and Fionn Regan. However, the trio of sisters have also pulled off a major coup by securing the services of Glyn and Ethan Johns. Amazingly, this is the first album they've co-produced despite a bursting back catalogue of landmark records between them.
It's that combined experience that works to The Staves' benefit. Opener 'Wisely & Slow' waits over a minute to introduce any instrumentation. Instead, the sisters' voices take centre stage with a series of warm harmonies. It's a brave move by the production team, but one that pays off. It focuses the sadness and nostalgia that drips from every word. Neither is this approach a gimmick as an introduction to the Staveley-Taylor's. It grabs your attention, but also prepares you for what's to follow.
In many ways Dead & Born & Grown is a very traditional folk album. It doesn't try to break new ground, choosing instead to adopt an air of familiarity. While that's a safe option, it's not hugely detrimental, allowing the trio an opportunity to run through their uncomplicated and mellow compositions with an effortless charm. The first sign of real heartbreak underpinning some of the material is during the booze soaked 'Pay Us No Mind' ("Drink until your lips are black, you've given things you'll never get back, oh you silly thing.") and it's once you start digging beyond the pretty veneer of The Staves' harmonies that you find a real depth to the record.
Elsewhere the regret filled 'Winter Trees' is a real treat as it gathers pace with a increasingly urgent sounding apology, and the almost country sounding 'Tongue Behind My Teeth' indicates that the sisters are capable of more than just traditional English folk. It's that hint of promise that elevates The Staves debut beyond just a pleasant Sunday afternoon listen. It also explains why an American audience will have warmed to the material during the sisters' recent touring schedule.
While Dead & Born & Grown does sound on occasion a little too restrained, playing to the strengths of a subdued and autumnal sound, there's much here to enjoy. The Staves certainly have the tools to create captivating harmonies and melodies, which justify their status beyond that of simply a backing group for a more established artist. The most interesting thing, though, will be to see how their music develops over time to create something a little more unique and less safe than demonstrated on many of the songs in this collection.
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