With due respect to the good citizens of Watford the town's impact on the musical world has not been one to date that has stood out for any special attention or distinction. This massive injustice could soon end not least with the arrival of three sisters namely Emily, Jessica and Camilla Stavely-Taylor whose "Dead & Born & Grown" under the name of the Staves is an exquisite debut packed with soaring note perfect harmonies and songs of such quality that they should come with a kite mark. The presence of Glyn and Ethan Johns on production duties for the first time working in a pairing may offer clues to the overall excellence contained herein. Between them this father and son team have produced an endless list of rock greats including Crosby Stills and Nash, Bob Dylan, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, Emmylou Harris, Laura Marling and the Band of Horses whose influences are to be found within the grooves of this album. Mining the deep vein of Americana has been a speciality of both producers and they carve out of the Staves a sound which fully acknowledges their English Folk roots but at the same time has a lifting breezy West Coast feel; recent slots for sisters often across the US supporting Willy Mason, the Civil Wars and Bon Iver has undoubtedly cemented this association.
The album kicks off with the absolutely scintillating and mostly a cappella "Wise and slowly" a hymenal that should turn the Fleet Foxes green with envy as they sing of how a "Tender woman mourns a man/sits in silent sorrow/with a bottle in her hand". The hint of an mournful organ about 90 seconds in eventually speeds to a rousing conclusion and hits a musical bullseye. In "Gone Tomorrow" the sisters manage to evoke the pastoral sounds that Texan wonders Midlake captured on the "Courage of others", while the slow building love lorn "Pay us no mind" shows its not all sweetness and light as the sisters acerbically comment "fare thee well, I don't give a f*** anymore". Like Sweden's finest First Aid Kit the overriding ambience created by the Staves is that of a timeless quality and a feeling that this surely can't be a debut album. The nice touch of a ukulele on the gossamer light "Facing West" almost conjures up a image of an alt country version of the Andrew Sisters and throws in a whistle solo for good measure. It all sounds a bit trite but it works perfectly. An album standout is the moody "Winter trees" harking back to the sort of natural mystery that Sandy Denny effortlessly captured in an all to brief recording career; when the song picks up the pace in its second half it is completely irresistible. Seek out the video of this on Sofar Sounds and check out the magic of three musicians working together with a telepathy that can only come from their shared family bond. It is the start of something truly special. This is confirmed by the brilliant jangling "Tounge behind my teeth" whose harmonies grab the listener by the throat and refuse to let go. The tender "Snow" certainly owes a debt to Laura Marling and what's wrong with that as a set of new and excellent musicians tip a nod to one of the best on the block?
Things are rounded off with the longest tune on the album the plaintive rolling country of "Eagle Song", concluding one of the most sure footed and sumptuous debuts in a very long time. There is in addition a hidden track on which all sisters take a vocal turn and bring forth echoes of the music that soundtracked the Coen's great bluegrass revivalist film "Oh brother, where art thou?". It should be noted in addition that one of the songs on this album is entitled "The Motherlode" a term usually associated with the hitting of an abundant or rich source of silver or gold. Listen to the Staves and you will experience the musical equivalent of this.