Watford is not a town traditionally known for having a rich musical heritage. Camilla, Emily and Jessica, the three sisters making up The Staves, are doing all they can to remedy this fact, returning with a brilliant sophomore record, If I Was, building upon the success the trio found with the 2012 release of Dead & Born & Grown.
After touring in the autumn of 2013 with Bon Iver, the Stavely-Taylor sisters struck a friendship with Justin Vernon, and subsequently asked him to produce their new record. Here, Vernon provides a light touch, choosing wisely to focus on the soaring harmonies and the intensity of the vocals, which the sisters do so well, and despite making an appearance on ‘Make it Holy’, his presence is kept to a minimum. His best work is found on ‘No Me, No You, No More’ and its immediate follow up, ‘Let Me Down’, both which are led primarily by the girls’ voices, backed with minimum instrumentation. In the latter, the girls are backed by themselves, their voices layered amongst echoes and reverberations, a Justin Vernon speciality. It is a special moment on a record bursting with special moments.
Side A is bookended by the slow-burning build of ‘Damn It All’, again showcasing the power and restraint of the vocals. It takes three minutes for the band to kick in, beginning with the strumming of an acoustic guitar, and steadily quickens in pace, towards a crescendo at the six-minute mark which almost acts as a cathartic relief. As the girls repeat the coda; ‘Throw it all to the wind…oh well Damn it all…I don’t want it all….’, the track is given a sense of light, and it leads perfectly into ‘The Shining’, which pulses and races through its length. A great record is often defined by how its tracks segue into one another, and on If It Was, the order has clearly been painstakingly thought over, producing what is one of the best records of 2015 thus far, and one of the better records released over the past 18 months.
What The Staves have done since Dead & Born & Grown can be seen as a re-emergence, rather than a complete reinvention. They have retained their signature sound – focused clearly on the strength of their harmonies – and built upon this a greater sense of instrumentation, knowing when to give tracks greater light, or greater darkness, and it is this which makes If I Was a great record. As the trumpet blasts on ‘Horizons’, giving way to a rather brilliant piano-led backdrop, everything falls perfectly into place. If there was any doubt as to the collective talents of Vernon and the Staveley-Taylor’s, this track should reaffirm how lucky we are to bear witness to the fruits of their labours. The Staves are a band who only come around once in a blue moon. The future is incredibly bright for a band who are leading the way in the new folk tradition. Watford finally has a band of which to be proud of.