Release Date: Mar 23, 2015
Record label: Nonesuch
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Folk
Rejoice, for spring is here and The Staves have arrived squinting and blinking in the light after two and half years in hibernation. After much touring and no time recording, the trio have nurtured their second album under the paternal tutelage of Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon. Squirreled away in his Wisconsin live-in April Base Studios, Jessica, Emily and Camilla Stavely-Taylor have worked on the written material they gathered while on the road, and shaped it with Vernon’s crew of wintry helpers.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Camilla, Emily, and Jessica, better known as The Staves, are three British sisters known for their vocal harmonies and folk goodness. Then, while touring in support of their 2012 debut, the sisters felt a need to do something different. With other European folk acts like First Aid Kit and The Rails sticking with tradition, The Staves went in another direction.
I’ve seen The Staves twice. Once was at The Gathering in Oxford, in a community centre, having never heard of them before. In that environment, prior to the release of their debut album Dead & Born & Grown, in late 2012, it was the unvarnished beauty of their close harmonies, the quality of their songwriting and their unaffected approach to impending stardom that really impressed.
The voices are still silken, the sibling harmonies still graceful, but everything else about the Staves has changed since their 2012 debut, Dead & Born & Grown. That album had forthright lyrics, but bland, folk-by-numbers backing; this one is softer in its address, more introspective, yet the sound is so much bolder, the music taking thrilling leaps in character and complexity. The Watford sisters’ decision to work with Justin Vernon (AKA Bon Iver) as producer was inspired: his influence glimmers in the spacious dynamics of Let Me Down, the way No Me, No You, No More hangs in the air like dust motes, the dense drums that butt against a needling guitar in Steady.
A folk-influenced band consisting of three sisters who sing in perfect harmony may well conjure up memories of a certain band of photogenic Irish siblings (and their brother) who were popular a decade ago. However, to dismiss The Staves as just a modern-day, English version of The Corrs would be to do them a major disservice. Three years ago, Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor announced their arrival with the excellent debut Dead Born & Grown.
Somebody lit a fire under The Staves’ porch. The sister trio from the UK normally construct daydreams that trail along somewhere between The Corrs’ syrupy harmonies and early ’70s American folk, but here, they bite. If I Was pushes into the rotten heart of moving on from heartbreak, aided by a producer who is a master of heartache himself, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon.
The cover of If I Was, their second full-length release, shows the Stavely-Taylor sisters, Emily, Jessica and Camilla, walking away from the viewer along a wintry, tree-lined path, bundled against the cold but confidently proceeding in step towards some destination known only to them. The photo is welcoming yet also maintains a distance, a separation that says we, the viewers, may be a part of the framing of the photograph, but we will never be part of its center. Such is the nature of the sisterly bond, of the familial cocoon.
The Staves, a folk-influenced U.K. trio featuring sisters Emily, Jessica, and Camila Staveley-Taylor, made waves with their debut album, 2012's Dead & Born & Grown & Live, which put the emphasis on the siblings' vocals, both individually and in harmony, as they performed with spare acoustic arrangements. For their second full-length effort, 2015's If I Was, the Staves have taken a somewhat different approach; with Justin Vernon of Bon Iver producing, the sophomore album keeps one foot in contemporary folk while introducing elements of Americana and soft rock into their formula, all the while highlighting the sisters' clear and emotionally powerful singing.
Returning with a strong second effort, The Staves continue to impress with their touching harmonies, bolstering ‘If I Was’ even further by their increased use of strings, electric guitar and drums. You can’t help but hear the wintery influences that recording in Justin Vernon’s isolated Wisconsin studio has had on Emily, Jessica and Camilla’s follow up to their 2012 debut, ‘Dead Born & Grown’. ‘Blood I Bled’ opens the album with guitar licks that sound eerily like the falling of snow.