Michael posted this message on his Facebook page earlier today:
A loved one sent me a playlist of female folk singers. I love the female voice, especially in mezza voce, the half voice, lilting and bird like. The male voice has some of the same characteristics in mezza voce, but it sounds more natural to me when I hear the female voice do it. There is a soothing and genteel quality to it, reminding me of water slowly flowing over rocks.
All the singers on the playlist had something to offer but I particularly like The Staves, a trio. Accompanied by ukulele, Facing West is my song of the morning, this morning – with an actual human whistling – and a simple lament – “I don’t think I can do this any more”. In it I hear the the sighing and soft cry of a tired child. It is pure and clear example of this voice – in three part harmony. I would follow it anywhere – a siren indeed – from the land of the desperately sweet.
I took the time and listened to the album The Staves made in 2012 and the last one I could find in 2014. What a difference in those two years.
The Andrews Sisters had beautiful voices, and it was the Andrews Sisters that first showed me how the voice of many singers mimic the instruments of the times. Not just female voices but all voices. Sinatra sounded like brass – a kind of muted trumpet, Crosby sounded like a trombone, the Andrews Sisters sounded like a big band brass section, Bonnie Raitt sang like a slide guitar, Ronstadt like a lead guitar, the Beatles like guitars and keyboard, Robert Plant like the growl and wail of overdrive in Page’s guitar– and I’m sure if you think about you will come up with a whole stack of others.
The Staves vocal change over time made me a little melancholy because in their career as singers the flute-like sound – almost synthetically pure – has slipped away to a more brash sounding vocal ensemble in front of a big orchestra playing in a huge concert hall. They are maturing of course, but if one listens to Adele, for instance you can still hear her reach out and touch the mezzo voce and the faint shadow of youth and innocence that rings through it.
There is something in The Staves pictures from 2012 to 2014 that has changed as well – as it should – and with the change is a kind of dance to watch, like the planets revolving, the changing of the seasons, and songs of the times.
The rap songs where the vocals are the instruments as well is a far cry from Eddie Cantor singing the contra-clarinet to the banjo-in-the-band – but they are both the same in essence and aesthetics.
I want The Staves to sing me the songs of that silken mezza voce, the high sibilance of the perfect harmonies of innocence and of the moment of discovery that we as humans can sing and play music, but I am content to let it turn and come to its new time – to express itself as it will. Something is lost no doubt but something is gained – and so it goes.
(January 27, 2016)
Live in 2021