It’s been a hot, hot, hell of a summer. Long days of sun bake the air and before night has time to cool it down the sun rises again. I find myself spending a lot of time trying to cool off. I try showers, cubes of ice across my skin, lying splay-legged to avoid thigh-sweat, but my efforts only leave me lukewarm at best. For a while now my musical atmosphere tended towards a similar tepidity and I needed some real relief. And then I discovered…The Staves.
In the new album, If I Was (2014), their coolness blows you away. Like the first breath of winter wind rolling in, the crisp cool lyricism rings just as true within this new album as it did in their last. But where Dead and Born and Grown (2012) dispenses a feeling of a shared experience, a long midnight talk between sisters echoing like fireside chats, this album feels much more personal. The harmonized beauty of The Staves three voices are made no less in sync, but it seems as if the words are spoken from the pages of a diary. I sensed I was given something deeply personal, that though I had been handed the book from the writer, it was something illicit, something I had stolen.
If their lyricism and clean acoustics wasn’t enough to solidify their indie/folk credentials, the fact of Justin Vernon’s involvement in its creation would be enough to draw attention. And it has. As the producer of the album, and a singer on at least two of the tracks, Vernon seems to have created for himself a role as both conduit and supporter. While I may not have felt completely comfortable at the idea of a paternal figure inserting himself into the sacred feminine embodied by The Staves, Vernon’s care and light touch (adding just a bit of electronic sound play, and background vocals) to the mix, relieved all unnecessary worry. Beyond the Vernon’s strong foothold in the genre, his eye for talent raises my interest in his future role in the music industry, if perhaps he will become the indie-folk Dr. Dre as both legendary talent and nurturer.
The short film that accompanies the new album portrays Vernon as a figure on the sidelines, stepping in only to prod or encourage them through the snow to the drift-ladden cabin studio from which The Staves recorded If I Was. In the white field surrounding the cabin the sisters playfully prance through the snow. In the midst of the harsh weather, they look like they’re having fun. They look happy to be sharing the cold and the dark. They look like the kind of sisterhood you’d want to be a part of. Now, with yet another docu-style film (Austin to Boston) showcasing their near mythological harmonies I have no question as to whether The Staves too will have just as resplendent a musical career as their producer.