The Staves Sing “Black & White”

the staves if i wasListen to this track by sisterly Watford, Hertfordshire trio The Staves. It’s “Black and White”, a single as taken from this year’s If I Was, their second full length record. The band is led by the voices of three sisters; Emily, Jessica, and Camilla Stavely-Taylor. Shortening their name for the stage one night on the sign-up sheet at a regular open mic night, the three sisters became The Staves.

This second album comes after the release of several EPs, and an eventual debut record in Dead & Born & Grown in 2012 (produced by two generations of famous Johns’ – Glyn and Ethan!). In the middle of all that, the band served as an opening act to The Civil Wars and Florence & The Machine, and provided back up duties on recordings by Tom Jones, and Fionn Regan. Additionally, The Staves gave performances at SXSW that exposed them to an American audience. They also supported Bon Iver, which led to Justin Vernon producing this record, capturing their harmony-centric feel that bypasses traditional British folk-rock, and instead connects with a sound that is more transatlantic instead.

There’s a sense of menace in this song, which on first listen may not be immediately apparent, just because the combination of voices is so compellingly beautiful. There is also something to be said for local music scenes that encourage young musicians to create this kind of alchemy together, which is certainly the case here, with a single venue serving as a platform for an international path to success. Read more

The Jackson 5 Perform “Maybe Tommorow”

Here’s a track by Gary Indiana’s first family of song The Jackson 5, featuring little Michael Jackson singing lead with their 1971 hit “Maybe Tomorrow”, the title track to the album Maybe Tomorrow. This was the group’s fourth album in two years, quite a long haul for a group of kids under 18.  Lead singer Michael was 13 years old when he recorded this.

The Jackson 5
Even for a group of kids, there wasn’t much time to feel the pressure by the time this song was recorded. The group’s profile not only involved touring and recording sessions, but TV network appearances and specials. There was even a Jackson 5 Saturday morning cartoon series. And for Michael, Jermaine, and Jackie, there were concurrent solo careers too, with Michael’s being the most prominent by the next year with his song “Ben”. Jackson-mania was a huge part of the cultural landscape in the early 70s.

The Jackson 5 have higher profile tunes, of course.  But, there’s something about this one I love, making me wonder why it isn’t among their most prominent hits.  It pulls in all kinds of musical influences starting from standard Motown soul-pop, yet also with the sumptuous strings of Philly Soul too.  It could be that this tune isn’t as chirpy as “ABC” or “I Want You Back”.  It seems to delve a bit deeper, for a pop tune at least.

The lyrics and the general feel of this song is melancholy to the extreme, making me wonder who thought it was a good idea for little Michael Jackson to sing it.  This song is about being in love, losing it, and deluding oneself that it will return.  The material calls for such world-weariness, that if I were the producer who didn’t know who I was working with, I’m not sure I’d have recommended it for a bunch of kids to sing.

But, by 1971 this group had proven its worth at getting nearly any song over without distracting an audience with the incongruity of a pre-teen singing convincingly about losing a lover.  Of course it helped that falsetto singing was very much in style by then by way of Curtis Mayfield and The Stylistics, among others.  And the group know enough about presenting the material in such a way that you forget the performers.  In fact, this is their key genius as a group.  And it would prove to be something of a testing ground for scores of kid groups who would come after them, from the Osmonds, to Musical Youth,  to Hanson, to the Jonas Brothers.

There’s been a lot of discussion over the childhood of Michael Jackson, and how it may have contributed to his current troubles as an adult.  It’s impossible for me to comment on that one way or another. In looking at the track record of this group with so many number ones in such a short period of time, it’s easy to forget how young they were.  And by 1971, they had been signed to a major label – Motown – for three years.  They were veterans.

Further, they were veterans with a lot of expectations on them to keep the hits coming. That’s an awful lot of pressure for a little kid to manage, particularly coming from the modest background that the Jacksons did.  Imagine the pressure to keep the hit machine rolling, possibly for fear of having to return to an old life of financial uncertainty, with a Dad who allegedly viewed you as little more than a cash cow.

But the slow-down eventually happened by the mid-70, and the Jacksons had had their day, having outgrown their image which was not updated with them.  Although they remained active intermittently after their heyday, by the end of the 70s, Michael Jackson had overshadowed them .  And of course, the craziness was just beginning for Michael, when his 1982 Thriller album changed the rules for everyone.