The Staves Dead & Born & Grown Review

Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Personal tales told by three sisters dabbling in very Americana-flavoured folk.

Fraser McAlpine 2012

Let’s get one thing straight from the off. If we don’t have to question why Tinie Tempah doesn’t Morris dance, and if we’re happy to let Alfie Boe go about his business even though he doesn’t do dubstep, we’re going to have to learn to judge earnest middle-class folkies according to the success of the noises they choose to make, rather than their socio-economic background. That’s just good manners.

In the case of sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor – represented here by their first full-length album, after three EPs and a live recording – slamming them for being well-to-do folk slummers would be wide of the mark anyway, given their relatively humble comprehensive school upbringing in Watford. And besides, their brand of folkish music is not steeped in years of adopted tradition, and does not come riddled with the clatter of fake clogs and rusty with ancient pretend sweat, so there’s no deception at work.

In fact, it’s not really British folk music at all, being far closer to the bluegrass-infused Americana of Emmylou Harris or Gillian Welch. These are personal tales told using a well-established and communal language, and coated with close harmonies as delicious as a homemade carrot cake from a craft stall.

That’s not to say there are no sharp edges. While In the Long Run and Wisely & Slow are downy pillows on which a weary traveller may rest his grizzled head, Pay Us No Mind conspires to hide a needle or two inside its billowy folds (it contains an actual swear word: the F one). And Winter Trees is a sombre companion piece to Laura Marling’s equally dour Goodbye England (Covered in Snow), the kind of frosty lament you should really listen to in mittens.

Lyrically, The Staves are a kind of musical Bronte sisters, or a tripartite Wordsworth: landscapes and nature figure large in their delicate thrum, as do unfortunate emotional situations. Regret is a key feeling, as is bliss, always expressed after the fact, in clear-eyed repose, like careful correspondence from a make-believe parlour.

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