The Staves: Good Woman review – Brutal but brilliant
On their brutal but brilliant third album, which was written and recorded during a period of turmoil, folk-singing sisters Emily, Jessica and Camilla Staveley-Taylor face an uncomfortable truth. “I’m carrying weight but I know it’s not mine. With half a heart it’s hard to stop but I feel as though I’m a good woman,” they sing on the title track, placing the difficult pursuit of self-acceptance at the top of their agenda.
In the six years since the release of the Bon Iver-produced If I Was, the sisters lost their mother, Camilla returned from Minneapolis to the UK following a break-up and, in giving birth to her first child, Emily gave her siblings their first niece. The tightly knit trio used voice notes, emails and long-distance calls to ping ideas, field recordings and melodies back and forth until all three were back living in each other’s pockets.
Good Woman is largely self-produced, but John Congleton (whose esteemed production credits include Sharon Van Etten’s Remind Me Tomorrow and Angel Olsen’s All Mirrors) sharpened some edges and encouraged the sisters to be more direct with their feelings.
The post-break-up malaise of Careful, Kid couldn’t be more loaded. “All the kicks in the ribs, they can really make you weak,” they toss out over sluggish guitars that match the mood. Then,in moments when it feels like things are spiralling, they switch gears and regain narrative control. Nothing’s Gonna Happen speaks from the experience of being trapped by personal and external expectations.
Absorbing the darkness that surrounds them, they beg for some light on Sparks. On the distant Paralysed, they use whatever shred of identity they have left as verbal ammunition. “I used to be magic, I used to rage. . . uncontained,” they growl, waking from a deep slumber.
Sonically, Trying’s weary but climactic breakdown of “I’m sorry, you should be sorry too” crashes into the assertive vocals that open the piano-led Waiting on Me to Change. The contrast between the two lands like a bucket of cold water, shocking us into sense and reminding us to get a grip. Comfort zones are decimated on Failure, with apologies moving away from taking the blame to basking in it: “I don’t owe you anything.”
Whenever the outlook is murky, a grungy undertone takes hold but on closing track Nazareth – which was recorded outdoors on a summer’s day in one take – birdsong can be heard alongside their blended voices and acoustic guitar.
For all of the jaded frustration that drives Good Woman, hope returns to the surface and the sisters comfortably sit with who they’ve become.