“I think being sung to is the nicest thing in the world. There’s nothing more comforting or enjoyable.” Emily Staveley-Taylor, eldest of the three sisters who comprise The Staves, is attempting to distil the band’s appeal. “And I would hope,” she adds gently, “that this is what people feel when they hear us sing.”

To describe The Staves’ music as merely comforting or enjoyable would be to severely under-egg the pudding. Theirs is songwriting as striking as it is exquisite, a melding of still, bright English folk and sublime West Coast pop that, performed live, is capable of plunging an audience into awed silence.

It is singing so alluring that the Staves were asked to provide backing vocals for recent albums by both Tom Jones (alongside Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings) and Fionn Regan, and to tour with Willy Mason, Josh Ritter, James Vincent McMorrow, and Mt. Desolation, among others. Meanwhile, legendary producers Glyn and Ethan Johns (whose combined credits include the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Eagles, Joan Armatrading, Ryan Adams, Ray LaMontagne, Kings of Leon, and Laura Marling to name but a few) found The Staves’ talents so compelling that they both independently tracked the band down. The Staves’ debut album, due for release in 2012, will be the first record on which father and son have shared production credits.

The musical evolution of The Staves — Emily, Jessica and Camilla — has been a slow, steady process; an adventure that began in the stew of family car journeys, sing-alongs and squabbles over the stereo, and immersed in the music of artists like Feist, Fleet Foxes, Simon & Garfunkel, Buffalo Springfield, and Motown. “There was always music in the house and we always sang,” Jessica remembers. “Mum and Dad weren’t professional musicians or anything but they were always into music and would sing, and play both the guitar and piano. Lots of harmonies.”

They talk particularly of the influence of their Mother: Welsh-born, and raised in a community of male voice choirs, she instilled in her daughters the power of communal singing. “It’s in her blood,” Emily recalls. Equally, their father taught his daughters how to play the guitar, and is the proud owner of that incredibly influential record collection.

With many of their friends in bands, The Staves were soon cajoled into taking part in an open mic night at their local pub, The Horns in Watford. They played covers mostly: Crosby Stills and Nash’s ‘Helplessly Hoping’, Neil Young’s ‘After The Gold Rush’, and ‘Landslide’ by Stevie Nicks. “We really enjoyed it,” Camilla recalls. “So that summer we started to do more. And gradually we began to think maybe we should write our own songs.”

When Jessica relocated to Liverpool to study music, the band acquired a new focus — with a place to rehearse and experiment, the city became the sisters’ second home. “And gradually the number of gigs we did each year started to increase,” Camilla explains. “I think at that point we were just always trying to keep up with demand. If someone got in touch and asked us to play a gig we thought yeah, we’ll do that. But then that happened more and more, and suddenly we realised we were gigging. It was never a conscious decision. It was a very unthought-out haphazard start.”

Simultaneously, The Staves were developing their own sound. In the beginning their songwriting style owed much to the artists they admired, but over time they struck upon a sound that is undeniably their own. “Our vocal arrangements have a lot to do with it,” Says Emily, “When we’re writing a song it suddenly gets to a place where it’s ours, sung in a three-part harmony.” The vocal arrangements are indeed something that marks out The Staves, a mingling of dusky sweetness and high, beaming radiance. “Oh yeah,” Emily laughs, “we’re definitely better together than apart. It’s weird, we’ve all got really different voices.” The band explain how their voices seem to fall in order of age, with Emily’s the lowest, Jessica’s somewhere in the middle and youngest sister Camilla’s somewhat higher. “Camilla and Jess can both go high,” Emily says, “but when Camilla goes high it means something totally different to when Jess does.”

Most of the songs on the Mexico EP — their second — were developed at their Mother’s kitchen table. From the bruised, wistful qualities of the title track to the steady, measured beauty of ‘Icarus’. And there are so many more songs in their arsenal, from the soft, sweet gallop of The Motherlode to the warm melancholic of Gone Tomorrow, to name but two.

“They’re all pretty introspective songs,” Jessica says slowly, “and it’s quite hard to explain what they’re about to anyone — you almost don’t want to tell people what they’re about so they can draw their own impressions from it. But I think there is an immediacy to them.” Camilla agrees: “Normally we’ve let songs buzz around for a while before we recorded them but with these we didn’t. They’re fresh out of the oven.”

For the listener, these are three songs that offer the merest taste of the sisters’ extraordinary talents, a promise of the brilliance to come, and a reminder, perhaps, that being sung to really is the nicest thing in the world.

Escondido is Nashville, TN based artists Jessica Maros and Tyler James. Recorded live in a single day, their 10-song debut album is due out Feb. 2013. Their sound is a washed out desert landscape steeped in American roots music. "We wanted it to be like Clint Eastwood playing pop songs at one of the honky-tonks downtown," James mused. "But we've been told it sounds like desert sex."

The pair met while James was recording their mutual friend at his home studio. "Jess was quietly strumming this song Rodeo Queen on the couch while everyone else was making drinks in the kitchen. I pushed record and added a little groove before folks got back in the room. Later that night we listened to it and both said 'You wanna make a record?'" They spent the next two months crafting the songs and bonding over a shared love of spaghetti westerns and 70's music. "We'd put on Ennio Morricone every morning," says Maros. "It's an easy process when you both love the same stuff."

The two gathered some musician friends and cut the record on October 18, 2011 at The Casino Studio in Nashville. "We wanted to capture that initial instinct," says James. "The talent in this town allows you to set up in one room and let 'em do their thing." Musicians Evan Hutchings (drums) and Adam Keafer (bass) give the backbeat to Scotty Murray's washed out western-style electric guitar. Maros' seductive vocals bring to mind Mazzy Star as they float atop James' sparse guitar, trumpet, and keyboard work.

Escondido's songs range from the Tom Petty/Fleetwood Mac influenced pop numbers Cold October and Bad Without You, to the lovelorn country ballads Special Enough and Willow Tree. "The record was an outlet for me," says Maros. "Each song brings back where I was, what I drank when I was writing them. It was a dark time and this album got me through it." The band's heavy sentiment is balanced out by the playful twang of songs like Don't Love Me Too Much and the Keep Walkin'. "Music helps us forget the very conflict it grows out of," says James. "But my favorite songs embrace that dissonance."

The album marks a new chapter for both members. Maros, a Vancouver, British Columbia native, found success as a clothing designer after initially moving to Nashville with a record deal. Her jewelry has been worn by the likes of Prince and Lady Antebellum, her handmade dresses gracing the red carpet at the Oscars and Country Music Awards. James, a small-town Iowa native, has spent the last decade on the road as a solo artist and member of Los Angeles based Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. "We both wanted a change of pace," says Maros. "I wanted to focus on music again and Tyler wanted to spend more time in town making records." The result is the formation of Escondido, a band whose songs are a tale of love lost across the western sky.



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