Dead & Born & Grown marks the first time that esteemed producer Glyn Johns – noted for work with The Beatles and the Stones, amongst others – and his son Ethan (Laura Marling, Ryan Adams, etc) have worked on the same project: an alliance all the more remarkable for both men being individually attracted to The Staves.
It's not hard to tell why. The acappella harmonies of the three Staveley-Taylor sisters on the opening "Wisely & Slow" have such sweet clarity, blending country charm with the playful insouciance of The Andrews Sisters, that resistance seems impossible.
Wisely, the Johns afford the voices plenty of space, with just an organ drone fading quietly in after a minute, as the sisters muse upon the fate of a bereaved woman, asking, "Why is it you whisper when you really need to yell?" It's as perfect and precious as a Fabergé trinket, and it establishes a style, and a quality, that's repeated throughout the album. Not to mention a theme: on "Gone Tomorrow", the sweet sorrow of parting is crystallised in harmony over fingerstyle guitar, placid drums and organ; in "Tongue Behind My Teeth", a fonder farewell is mapped out in a cantering jangle of guitars and layered counterpoint harmonies; and with "Snow", the warm jangle serves as a quilt against the blanketing snow of separation.
Hailing from Watford, The Staves are like a distillation of all that's best about the folk heritages of England and America. On "Winter Trees", their voices have that cold, sharp precision born of the Anglo folk tradition; while "In The Long Run" presents a more American flavour, with the simple purity of the guitar recalling Simon & Garfunkel, and their harmonies embodying the innocence of West Coast hippie idealism.
The two traditions come together perhaps most strikingly on the languid, drowsy "Pay Us No Mind", where antique diction – "tarry" and "thee", etc – is suddenly exploded by the expletive in the line, "I don't give a fuck." But the real surprise is that it doesn't fracture the song at all, so adeptly do the girls negotiate the change. Magical stuff.
Download: Wisely & Slow; Gone Tomorrow; Snow; Pay Us No Mind