Americans are no strangers to the invasion of British folk-rock groups, and like many of their predecessors, the Staves have crossed the pond to share their tight harmonies and acoustic dreams. The band is comprised of three sisters: Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Staveley-Taylor. They got their initial start singing at a pub in their home of Watford, England, and have since toured with some of the biggest names in American folk music, including The Civil Wars, Ben Howard, and Bon Iver. After producing several EPs, the Staves came out with their first album entitled “Dead & Born & Grown” in November of 2012. Though the first album certainly showcases the folksy sound that the Staves are well known for, it wasn’t until the triumphal record “If I Was” in 2014 that they hit their true musical stride.
Right off the bat, the album begins with a song wrought with closely-woven harmonies and slow-building dynamics that add a dramatic element to an otherwise stereotypical folk arrangement. “Blood I Bled” is one of the very few songs written by the youngest Stave sister, and exhibits a youthful angst that is dissonant from the following track, “Steady.” Aside from a few deviating pieces, many of the songs on this album have echoes of Americana and early folk traditions. Both “No Me, No You, No More” and “Make it Holy” are conducted in rounds, with three-part harmony reminiscent of Appalachian and hymnal music. The eldest sister, Jessica, often takes lead vocals while Emily sings the steady lower notes and Camilla lends a soft soprano to the mix.
Joined by Bon Iver and several other male singers, “Make it Holy” is perhaps proof of the musical development these sisters have undergone in the years between “Dead & Born & Grown” and “If I Was.” It begins with a simple guitar pattern and single voice, and then begins to build in its complexity of instrumentation and harmony. Each sister’s voice can be heard distinctly, especially in the song’s chorus, yet when the round ends their voices blend together as if they belonged to one individual person. Its ending is a fade out of voices, both men and women in unison, acting as a prayer invoking the longing tone of the piece.
The album concludes with a cover of Bruce Springstein’s “I’m on Fire,” adding on a different meaning when sung by women in such a pure and simple way. Though it is often questionable to end an album on a cover, the care and complexity with which they arranged the piece is a true testament to their skill as a band. The overall tone is both somber and uplifting, a folk set told from the eyes of modern day women battling with love and loss. Their newest album, “The Way Is Read,” is out now on most music platforms, and I am truly excited to witness what is to come from the Staves as they continue their careers.