The Staves: Sisters singing harmony 

click to enlarge The Staves
  • Courtesy photo
  • The Staves' debut album was produced by Ethan Johns and his dad, Glyn Johns.

British vocalist Emily Stavely-Taylor, who just turned 30, enjoys being with her two younger siblings: Jessica, 26, and Camilla, 23.

That wasn't the case back when she was 16, and her youngest sister, whom she calls Millie, was 10.

"You really don't want your little sister hanging around with her ear pressed to your bedroom door when you've got a boy in there," she says. "But when we got to the age when we were all the same size in clothes, that's when we started seeing each other as equals. And that's really when it all changed."

That's when the girls — who had trilled around their Watford, England, nest for years — formed a family band called The Staves, which appears in The City this week.

Their warm, folksy sound and airtight harmonies proved so compelling, Ethan Johns and his equally famous father, Glyn Johns, agreed to co-produce their debut, "Dead & Born & Grown."

The album boldly opens with an a cappella number, "Wisely & Slow," which reverberates like vintage gospel. The scene brightens when acoustic guitar gently wafts in on "Gone Tomorrow" followed by a Poco-twanged "The Motherlode" and the delicate, minor-key madrigal "Winter Trees."

According to Stavely-Taylor, the general theme of "Dead" is the cyclical nature of things — when one chapter of existence ends and is then reborn, phoenixlike, from the ashes.

"So we're trying to figure out life, what's going on, and communicate it as eloquently as we can, really, and share it with people," she says. "And maybe they'll be comforted somehow by our music or our voices or our lyrics, and maybe they'll feel a connection to a wider thing and they won't feel so alone. I mean, that's how I felt with the music that I loved."

Stavely-Taylor cites her five favorite albums: The Beatles' "Revolver," Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water," Jeff Buckley's "Grace," Paul Simon's "Graceland" and "Blue" by Joni Mitchell.

"That was my first love affair with Joni, where it all began," she says, sighing. "I remember just crying my eyes out to 'River' on that album — what a poet!"

As teenagers, the sisters all chimed in together whenever possible: "Definitely in the kitchen, while you're washing dishes or eating dinner. We always heard 'Don't sing with your mouth full!'" Stavely-Taylor says.

The Staves, who started out playing humble pubs, have triumphed over many a drunken heckler.

"We try to let our music do the talking," she says. "The thing is to play to the people that are listening. And the people that aren't listening can go f*** themselves!"

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Tom Lanham

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